Professor MIRCEA DUMITRU, PhD
Ever since its foundation, The University of Bucharest has been and still keeps on being an institution serving the Romanian society. It has taken on the responsibility to be the main institution for the formation of its intellectual, political and administrative elites, as well as a melting pot of scientific knowledge, cultural creation, public debate and social action.
However, the University of Bucharest is not only one of the most important public institutions of higher education in the country. It is both the scientific, cultural reality, a paideia that interlaces with the existence and the daily lives of the thousands of professors and students who dedicate their time to creation, teaching and learning. It is the cultural and scientific environment which teachers that have served it and students that were formed here have started assuming and identifying as a place of full professional engagement.
This is why, with no exaggeration whatsoever, each public iteration regarding the University of Bucharest bears along a special significance, both cultural and historical, for each of us. It is not by chance that any discourse about our institution or any reference to the term that designates it are charged with a powerful feeling of reverence and gratitude towards the immense dignity and authority that this institution has to enjoy in the society. The origin of these virtues, both moral and epistemic, do not reside only within the fact – undoubtedly real – of its venerable duration and of its glorious traditions, which many other institutions in Romania do not enjoy, but also in the intrinsic nature of the concept of university itself, which crystalizes, along with the passing of time, the defining and determinant features of the mission and of its functions in the life of the society, which are the quest for truth and the formation of new generations in the spirit of the development of their ability to know and to find new things to augment our understanding, or which would help us solve imperative and important social problems.
What are, in this case, the values and the ideals that define and that have guided our university throughout its one-and-a-half-century history? The University of Bucharest, just like any other modern university, has settled, ever since its establishment, on value-based challenges and on ideals that have defined the European cultural modernity through coherence and identity. It has defined itself ever since the beginning as being part of a cultural aspiration and tradition, that finds its deepest and most visionary expression in some of the thinkers that have established the agenda of European modernity.
Therefore, in order to take a single example, which is however particularly expressive, during a fully ongoing development of European Enlightenment, Immauel Kant conceived, in 1784, one of those essential and constitutive texts, few in number, of cultural and political modernity, text which, through the enormous influence it has exerted in time, has reached the point where it defines the whole substance and coherence of our educational attitudes and actions. In his programmatic work entitled What is Enlightenment?, Kane offers us, first of all, a way “of justifying and establishing the rightfulness of a public critical examination, developed ‘within the boundaries of reason’, of any institution, form of life or tradition” (Mircea Flonta, “The Kantian Idea of Enlightenment”, in The Practical Philosophy of Kant, Mircea Flonta, Hans-Klaus Keul (ed.), Polirom, 2000, pg. 244-245.) Through the implications that branch off from this justificatory, establishing endeavour, Kant’s vision offers at the same time the philosophical and value-based motivation subjacent to the definition of the mission and of the role of any generalist and comprehensive university, as a function of reason and of the sphere of the public interest. What will therefore be the main role that the university will have to take on in order to satisfy its public, social mission? Let us call on Kant, who tells us what the Enlightenment resides in and who implicitly impels us to think and to take on our role of educators in the interest of what is good and of the public concern: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding, without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Sapere aude! (Dare to know!) ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding,’ is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment.” (Kant’s Practical Philosophy, Mircea Flonta, Hans-Klaus Keul (ed.), Polirom, 2000, p. 118).
“Sapere aude!” (Dare to know!) can also be the slogan engraved on the frontispiece of any university that wholly deserves its name. Can we think of a pedagogical incentive more luminous and more fit, one that would address the need of knowledge, which is planted deep within the very intrinsic nature of man?
But Kant, a very profound, fine and subtle connoisseur of the usual psychology of man, knew very well that the human nature is not completely luminous and rational. He goes on in the essay we called forth here: “Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance (after people have gained their ‘natural coming of age’). They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor! If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on – then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if I can merely pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. […] Thus it is very difficult for the individual to work himself out of the nonage which has become almost second nature to him…” (Op. cit., pp. 118-119.)
What is there to be done, in this case? Well, when people cannot overcome and solve such serious issues by themselves, they build and appeal to institutions. What has no personal solution may very well have an institutional and social one. Do we wish to determine people to come out of the state of nonage? To have the courage of thinking with their own minds? To go through the trouble of taking on the condition of emancipation and of intellectual, moral and affective coming of age? Well, then let us give them that education which enlightens them. This is far from being a luxury. This is not something optional. It is a necessity and an obligation. This is the mission of the school and of the university, which serve the society that also has, in turn, to offer the school and the university the necessary means and to respect their dignity and the high role that these institutions need to take on.
Here, however, we are not talking of a university that would once again set itself up as an authoritarian custodian that will keep its students in their state of nonage, which will think for them or in their place, which will impose their beliefs or the content of their conscience etc. We are talking about an institution in which experienced, patient and understanding mentors, who are avid of knowledge, handle the accomplishment and the updating of the mental and spiritual potential of their younger, scholarly colleagues, allowing their creative forces to manifest themselves freely and autonomously and aiding them to fulfil their aspirations, according to the talent and to the motivations that keep them animated. We therefore talk of a university that aspires, in most part, to be humanistic, in the highest generic sense of this term, and to form autonomous citizens who exert their freedom of spirit and expression.
In order to get as close as possible to these high and optimistic ideals, crystalized in the modern era, and in order not to fall in the minor state of daily reality, the university needs both a decisive approach to taking on its own values and the recognition of its fundamental rights. Therefore, the mission of the university to train young people on a difficult, but meritorious path of getting out of the state of being minors and of tutelage can only be reached if the university is given full epistemic and functional-administrative autonomy. In turn, the university will not be able to answer its educational and formative goal in any other way than cultivating and respecting the freedom of thought and expression, tolerance and axiological pluralism and, lastly, the pathos of honest and selfless quest for the truth based on recourse to the rational, impersonal critic and on the objective method of science. Each of our teachers has the duty of illustrating first of all these features.
It is our belief that the University of Bucharest, in its whole historical becoming, has aspired and still aspires to fulfil this ideal and to cultivate these values. Along one century and a half of existence, the academic community of the University of Bucharest has acted for the edification of a modern and powerful institution, both flexible and dynamic, able to offer the highest quality of superior education, to achieve scientific research to the most demanding international standards and to contribute to the modernisation and consolidation of the democratic processes in the Romanian society. Sometimes, the efforts were successful, and sometimes they were compromised either by our own limits, or by the hardships of time. Aside from the many vicissitudes and critical moments, the members of the academic community have managed to find themselves in the effort of affirming common values, so that, through its teachers, students and graduates, as well as through the values promoted, the University of Bucharest has asserted itself both on a national and on an international level, as the main higher education institution in Romania.
After one hundred and fifty years, surely there are many things that would be worth related, upon which it would be best to reflect carefully and patiently, in order to learn from mistakes and to not re-do them, but also in order to reiterate and highlight the example of meritorious deeds. But perhaps the most important thing with this rich summing-up is the lecture that the good functioning of our institution depends, aside from the more or less favourable general framework, on the people that animate it. Through common effort of the members of its academic community, the University of Bucharest managed to fulfil its mission of forming successive generations of young people in the spirit of the respect for truth and for scientific knowledge, of attachment towards the national and universally human values. And us, the ones who are here 150 years later, we find ourselves full of joy, pride and devotion, under the aegis of the age-old hail: Vivat! Crescat! Floreat!
— Rector, Professor Mircea Dumitru, PhD
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