by Anna Bratulic
Today's ongoing debate about the role of the university is strikingly similar to the one waged during the Reformation.
History professor Karin Maag gave a lecture February 17 as part of a series commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Liberal Arts College (LAC). Her title, "Academic Education and the Real World in the 16th-Century Reformation," spoofed Concordia's own slogan, Real Education for the Real World, to point up the similar dilemmas faced by institutions of higher learning in the 1500s.
There was growth in the number of universities in the 16th century, and as the number of diploma-carrying graduates increased, so did certain tensions.
"The biggest confrontations occurred between more traditional approaches to professional training -- through apprenticeships or shadowing an older, more experienced practitioner -- and the new system of university studies," Maag said.
"Alongside these professional rivalries, tensions also surfaced between the centres of training and the graduates' employers, as each side had different ideas about the form and content this training should take."
Confessional changes brought about by the Reformation further complicated matters, particularly concerning the training of clergy.
The great German religious reformer Martin Luther opposed the overly intellectual approach of the universities and the medieval trend of relying on Aristotle to logically "prove" the existence of God. Rather, he supported widespread reading of the Bible in the vernacular, the language understood by everyone.
"Yet very quickly, at least by 1525 and the Peasants' Revolt, the Reformers realized the dangers inherent in asserting that the word of God alone could serve as the rule of faith and that each faithful believer could understand its meanings," Maag said. "Luther and his colleagues saw that there was a danger of multiple interpretations."
Thus the need arose for a formally educated body of ministers who could interpret and standardize "true" scriptural meaning. Protestant "universities" or academies were opened to do just that. Technically, they weren't universities, because in order to grant degrees, which academies were unable to do, they required a charter signed by the pope or the (usually strongly Catholic) emperor, an unlikely scenario. However, they were equivalent to universities in offering the same caliber of courses.
"Academies of Geneva and Zurich provided letters of
recommendation, instead, for their students," Maag said.
"These assessed both the
academic performance of the students and their standards of morals and behaviour."
During this time, there was a shift from the traditional practice of the mass, or eucharist, to preaching, which involved some practical skills. One young pastor was initially denied a job because, while no one contested his knowledge, his voice was too soft and deemed unsuitable for preaching to large audiences.
"The young pastors would have to go on an internship to some rural parish to make up for the practical training they did not learn during their studies," Maag said. Medical faculties experienced similar problems in deciding what ratio of theoretical versus practical training was ideal to turn out good physicians.
The LAC has invited its hundreds of graduates back to the college for a rousing reunion March 18 to 20.
Thursday, March 18, will feature an evening lecture by Mary Lefkowitz, an outstanding classics scholar from Wellesley College. A graduate of Wellesley and of Radcliffe College, where she got her PhD in 1961, she has been named an honorary fellow of St. Hilda's College, Oxford, and received an honorary degree from Trinity College, Hartford.
Her books include The Lives of the Greek Poets,Women in Greek Myth, and Not Out of Africa (an attack on Afrocentrism). Her most recent book is a collection of essays, Black Athena Revisited.
Friday, March 19, will be a full day of events, including a morning workshop led by Professor Lefkowitz on "Liberal Education in the 21st Century" and round-table sessions on careers in academia, the arts and media. The evening's entertainment will be provided by current LAC students.
On Saturday morning, there will be another careers round-table, this time on business and the professions, followed by a fond look back at the College's 20-year history and the literary journals produced by past students.
The reunion winds up with a flourish: the 20th Reunion Owl of Minerva Dinner Dance, at the Sheraton Centre, with presentations, dancing and a talent show.
The free public lecture by Mary
Lefkowitz will be at 8:30 p.m. in the Alumni Auditorium on the
main floor of the Henry F. Hall Building, on Thursday, March 18.