THE ACADEMYnWhy ArenUniversitiesnDifferent From AllnOther Centers ofnLearning?nby Jacob NeusnernThe oldest university in the West,nthe University of Bologna, hasncelebrated its nine hundredth anniversary;nbut much that is studied therensustains an intellectual tradition ofnscholarship that is thousands of yearsnold. Universities are not the first institutionsnin which a systematic and sustainednlabor of learning has been pursued.nNor would anyone today workingnin a research institute or industrial laboratorynconcede that universities are thenbest institutions for research. All theynare is different, and when we understandnthe difference, we shall have andeeper perspective on what makes universitiesndifferent from all other centersnof learning.nLet me begin with the simple factnthat many of the areas of learning nowncovered in universities far antedate thenfounding of universities themselves.nThe sources on which I work, thenancient writings of Judaism in the firstnVITAL SIGNSnseven centuries A.D., for example,nthough they were long studied by majornintellects, were never studied in universitiesnbefore our own time, and they arenjust now beginning to find a place here.nTme, the Talmuds and related writingsnform the counterpart (for Judaism) ofnthe canon law and jurisprudence studiednin European universities for nearly anthousand years. Without the considerablenlabor of mediation by bilingualnpersons, however, university professorsnwould have no more understood thesenwritings than the succession of scholarlynTalmudists would have understood thencivil and canon law addressed so brilliantlynin universities. As a matter ofnfact, neither the famous Talmudists nornthe celebrated canon lawyers wouldnhave understood the questions I bring tonthe sources that, in one idiom or another,nthey studied. They wanted to knownone thing, I something else.nNor is the Mishnah alone. There is,nafter all, philosophy. There is mathematics.nThere is music. The Classics ofnancient Greece and Rome may makenthe same statements in Greek and innLatin as I have in reference to writingsnin Hebrew and in Aramaic. Most ofnwhat we study here will see this new,nthis young, this scarcely tried institutionnas a temporary home. Every professornof every subject may find roots to his ornher subject of learning, however recentnin its contemporary formulation, in thensoil of remote antiquity. For mathematicsndictated the arrangement of thenstones at Stonehenge and the cavendrawings in France and Spain, as muchnas the aboriginal wall-scratchings innAustralia and the mins of the old citiesnof Africa, not to mention the remarkablenMayan monuments of the Yucatannand Aztecs of Middle America and ofnthe Incas of the Andes. They all bespeaknreflection, judgment, proportion,ntaste, and composition: philosophy. Andnall these traditions of learning flourished,nfor most of the history of humanity,nelsewhere than in universities.nWhen, therefore, we ask what isndifferent about universities, to beginnnnwith our task is to remember not hownold, but how new this kind of place ofnlearning really is. Neariy everyone innevery tradition of human knowledgenpursued in universities stands for somethingnthat humanity has pursued innother institutions than this type of institution,nunder other circumstances thannthis one, and in the service of differentnauspices from the ones that sustain andnsupport universities as we know themn(church, state, industry, commerce, tonname the more important auspices ofnlearning today).nLearning transcends its academicnauspices. Learning recognizes no limitationsnof an institutional sort. Learningnis so natural to humanity as, in the end,nto require nothing more than the intellectndriven by curiosity and sustained bynspeculation. Accordingly, we have tonask ourselves what it is that marks asndistinctive and as valuable the universitynas we have known it for the brief spellncommencing nine hundred years ago,namong the ancestors of this people.nWhy is the university of the West,ninclusive of the Americas (and nownAfrica and Asia as well), different fromnall other forms in which learning hasnfound a home; in which, in morenacademic language, learning has beenninstitutionalized in permanent and sociallynsanctioned form?nAs I said, it is not because it is old, fornit is young. It is not because the programnof learning, the curriculum, isnstable, because it is subject to changenthat, relative to the hundred thousandnyear history of humanity, happens everyn45 minutes. And it is not because thenuniversity is the best place in which tonpursue curiosity and to sort things out,nfor that remains to be demonstrated.nConsider that nearly all of the greatnintellectual achievements in the historynof humanity — by definition — tooknplace outside of universities and werenthe accomplishments of persons whonwere not professors, who were not paidnto think great thoughts and write themndown. If we point to the formativenintellects of the world as we knownSEPTEMBER 1989/45n