ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Public University in a Democracy

The modern public university in a democracy faces the challenging task of producing and disseminating knowledge. Though the public character and universality of knowledge seem to be threatened today by both the state as well as the market forces, the university cannot afford to remain an apolitical institution in a democracy. There are lessons to be learnt in the debates surrounding the development of German universities and the idea of a university as the idealist philosophers have conceptualised.

Two incidents—the suicide of a Dalit scholar, Rohith Vemula, in University of Hyderabad, and the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the President of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union—point to the university as a site of conflicts and contests. These incidents and many more force us to make an inquiry into the meaning and role of the public university in a democracy. The university, as an institution embedded in a hierarchical social and economic system, committed to values of democracy and diversity, is bound to throw up various challenges. A state that protects the autonomy of the university and helps build spaces for free public discussion and debating differing points of view within the university, helps promote the growth of public consciousness in the university.

Any attempt, however, to settle the differences through strategic or repressive measures by the state inflicts injury and harm on the growth of public consciousness within the university. The public character of the university, therefore, seems to rest on a crucial role of the state not only in funding, but also in protecting the freedom of a university and creating autonomous democratic spaces within it for discussion. Unfortunately, however, the public consciousness of the university is being threatened by both the state as well as the market forces.

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