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May 4-6, 2023 • University of Regina • Regina, Saskatchewan

The present symposium will explore challenges, conflicting tensions and promising re-imaginations in an ambitious pursuit to query: What are Universities For? It is vital for every generation of scholars to grapple with the fundamental question that cuts to the very heart of what we, as scholars, do and what we aspire to be.

A medieval institution at once steeped in tradition and yet ever-evolving to respond to current pressures and demands, the university is an entity like no other. Perhaps best described as a multiversity (Krucken, Kosmutzky, & Torka, 2007), it is at once elitist and populist, an engine of change and a staunch gatekeeper of knowledge, an incubator of innovation and a storeroom of dusty conventions. It is a training academy for workskills and a crucial locus for developing a well-rounded, critical and creative citizenry. As well, it is simultaneously colonial and de-colonial, Western and Indigenizing, pluralistic and monolithic.

Moreover, the university faces constant pressure to produce a return on investment, while balancing massification, internationalization, discovery-driven scholarship, and attempts to stay true to the 1960s demographic- and social movement-led demands to be an inclusive space. In a time of audit culture, anti-intellectualism, and the increasing calls for, and by, governments to employ short-term, narrowly applied labour and economic metrics with which to judge its success, dare we even ask what lies ahead?

And if fear locks the university into survival mode, how can it act as so many would still wish, not as an elitist ivory tower, nor a submissive lapdog, but as a fully-functioning lighthouse, striving to help society navigate the hazards of dangerous waters?

Questions that might help guide the discussion include:

  • What is the real value and responsibility of the university in 2023 & beyond?
  • What makes universities unique in society?
  • What is the university’s contribution to democracy?
  • What is the university’s role in discovery?
  • What does the university fight to preserve or place in hospice?
  • What is the future of work?
  • How does the university survive?
  • What people, knowledge, and discourses, are regularly excluded in both teaching and research?
  • Can the university reconcile its own colonial, patriarchal, and elitist past with its current aims towards inclusivity, decoloniality, cultural responsiveness, and community engagement? And moreover, will the public be willing to accept such a reconciliation?

The symposium will gather national and international experts to help us explore these questions and more. Key to these discussions is an attempt to re-centre often overlooked voices for a more robust and diverse exploration of our very raison d’être.

Each generation of scholars must re-visit the fundamental questions “What are universities for?” and perhaps more importantly, “Who are universities for?” And yet, perhaps ironically, few spaces exist to address these fundamental questions through disparate and overlapping disciplinary approaches, in consensus and dissensus, the planned symposium conversations,  hold much promise for breaking new terrain and opening up old discourses as we seek to map an inclusive path forward.