The Flagship on Critical Thought in African Humanities of the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape in collaboration with the SARChI Chair for Social Change at the University of Fort Hare and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Global Change at the University of Minnesota, is excited to announce the 2016 Winter School on the theme “What is the University for?”. The Winter School will take place in Cape Town from July 4th to July 8th 2016.

We are presented with two possible ways of hearing the parsing “for” in “what is the university for.” On the one hand, we hear a question about what the university is supposed to be doing now, and on the other, we hear a question about the university’s standpoint. With the emergence of a new scripting of the university in the image of capital and its drive to accumulation, the question of what the university stands for seems to take precedence over the question of what the university is to be doing now. The demand is not to reverse the orders of these questions but to realize that in South Africa today, the opportunity exists to study both senses of hearing the phrase “what is the university for”, in their very simultaneity, and at whatever speed. In such simultaneity the university may open itself to a future in which it more searchingly requires its students, faculty and workers to think ahead by asking what we should be desiring at the institutional site of the university.

We would be remiss if we did not think of the university as more than an institution that preserves the best of what we have learned for the greater public good. The university is, and must be uncompromisingly intellectual in its desire, commitment and pursuits of these two simple, albeit contested ends. An emphasis on what the university ‘was’ is conservative; we need to be thoughtful. The university is perhaps to be approached less as a question of putting knowledge in the service of the public, than as a space for inventing the unprecedented.

Today there is growing concern that the university has lost sight of its reigning idea – the demands of radical critique and timeliness – and all the contests that ensue from claims made on that idea. In the process its sense of inventiveness has been threatened by an encroaching sense of the de-schooling of society, instrumental reason and the effects of the changes in the technological resources of society that have altered the span of attention, retentional abilities, memory and recall, and at times, the very desire to think and reason. Scholars around the world bemoan the extent of plagiarism and lack of attention on the part of their students; features that they suggest have much to do with the changes wrought by the growth and expansion of new technological resources. What binds the university as a coherent system is now threatened by the waning of attention and the changes in processes of retention and memory. In these times, retention has been consigned to digital recording devices. Students and faculty are now compelled to labor under the illusion that the more that we store and the more we have stored, the more we presumably know.

There has never been a more hazardous time to forget to ask “what is the university for?” The university’s future resides in cutting into the future and into established knowledge. All the while, we should hear in the echoes of the past, the demand to keep desire alive, to remain awake, and to constitute a community that is open to the future.

For an expanded sense of the question please see the article “What is the University for?” , as well as  2016 Winter School Application for more information on the .