The University as Public Sphere

Diana Ambrozas (Simon Fraser University)

Abstract: There is a certain parallel between arguments about the decline of the public sphere and the decline of the university today. Both institutions are said to be increasingly fragmented and politicized. In this paper, I mobilize Nancy Fraser's alternative account of the public in order to defend contemporary political changes in the university, such as affirmative action or women's studies programs. Such changes are necessary to transform an elite institution into a more democratic one and, in addition, they broaden the scope of our knowledge.

Résumé: On peut établir un certain parallèle entre les arguments concernant le déclin de la sphère publique et le déclin de l'université aujourd'hui. On dit que les deux institutions deviennent de plus en plus fragmentées et politisées. Dans cet article, j'utilise le compte-rendu alternatif de la sphère publique donné par Nancy Fraser pour défendre les changements politiques contemporains dans l'université, comme l'action affirmative ou les programmes d'études des femmes. Ces changements sont nécessaires pour transformer une institution élite en institution plus démocratique et ils contribuent en outre à élargir l'éventail de nos connaissances.

In the publicity poster for the Monopolies of Knowledge conference, where this paper was first delivered, there are 12 men seated or standing around a banquet table. Harold Innis is pictured at the centre, calmly looking at the camera, in control. All the men are wearing the uniform of the upper middle class: identical dark suits with ties. All but two. The fresh-faced and uneasily smiling graduate students in the foreground are dressed in suits of lighter shades. The year is 1947 and at that time the university maintained a certain monopoly of knowledge by training elite young men for positions of power in Canadian society.

Times have certainly changed. Within a few decades the university has become a less uniform institution and a site of generational as well as class, sexual, and racial politics. Ironically, Innis was worried early on. Already in 1946, the man who alerted us to monopolies of knowledge was lamenting the decline of the university due to the commingling of politics and truth (Innis, 1946). Representatives on both ends of the traditional political spectrum today agree. From right to left, in academic journals and the daily news, we hear that the university is in crisis because it is politicized and de-universalized. The right laments that academic standards are falling and that intellectuals are no longer the guardians of civilization while many on the left worry that intellectuals have abandoned their public responsibilities.

In The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, originally published in 1962, Jürgen Habermas made a similar argument about the decline of the bourgeois public sphere. It too had been de-universalized as a result of contestation between competing political interest groups. Given the parallel in these debates and their shared rhetoric of loss, I want to raise the question of the university as a public sphere. If the university is a public, who constitutes it? And for whom is the (explicitly) politicized university in decline? In order to address these issues I plan to mobilize Nancy Fraser's alternative account of the public sphere.

Fraser has cogently argued that Habermas' decline narrative idealizes the bourgeois public sphere and thus unnecessarily restricts the idea of a public. In its place she proposes an account of multiple intersecting publics where interests are discursively constituted and contested, but where neither what is rationally discussed nor what counts as rational is delimited a priori. She remains within the scope of contemporary critical theory, however, by retaining pride of place for discursive reason. In my view, her definition yields not only a more historically accurate but indeed a more democratic account of the public sphere.

Following Fraser's lead I want to suggest that the university is not in academic decline; at least not through political struggles though it may well be declining due to market forces, as Andrew Wernick has convincingly argued (Wernick, 1991). The university is instead one, or more, of many publics where political contestation increases knowledge as well as democracy. Because of my interests as a feminist, I plan to focus my analysis on feminist politics in the university; in particular on what has been called its "chilly climate" for women. But before I apply Fraser's analysis to the university, let me recall Habermas' discussion of the public sphere and its critique by Fraser.

Habermas and the public sphere

Habermas is undeniably one of the most influential commentators in the field of democratic theory today. His critical-theoretical project is to salvage the emancipatory promise of the bourgeois public sphere. This he defines as the arena where private persons come together to make public opinion (Habermas, 1993). There are at least four distinctive features of this sphere: (1) any and all individuals come together (in principle), (2) around issues of general interest, (3) without concern for social status, and (4) in order to achieve rational consensus by means of critical discussion (Calhoun, 1992; Fraser, 1993). The liberatory promise is said to lie in this public's formal inclusivity and, more importantly, in its critical rationality which dialectically transforms the nature of power.

In accord with its own intention, public opinion wanted to be neither a check on power, nor power itself, nor even the source of all powers. Within its medium rather the character of executive power, domination ... itself, was supposed to change.... Public debate was supposed to turn voluntas into a ratio that in the public competition of private arguments came into being as the consensus about what was practically necessary in the interest of all. (Habermas, 1989, pp. 82-83)

According to Habermas, this public sphere first emerged in seventeenth-century England in dialectical opposition to the nuclear family, the market, and the modern state.

The family was a necessary precondition for the public sphere as the realm where private persons were individuated. Factors promoting individuation in the family were humane interpersonal relations as well as solitary reading, especially of the new domestic novels that depicted bourgeois family life, such as Richardson's Pamela (Habermas, 1989). With dialectical reciprocity, the family was in turn transformed by the public sphere into an even more private space. Habermas illustrates this point with the example of the change in architectural styles: "The `public' character of the extended family's parlor in which the lady of the house at the side of its master performed the representative functions before the domestic servants and neighbours, was replaced by the conjugal family's living room into which the spouses with their smaller children retired from the personnel" (Habermas 1989, p. 45). Bourgeois women, unlike aristocratic ladies in salon culture, were consigned to the management of this private space and lost the former's possibility of access to a mainstream public.

The capitalist economy was also instrumental in the rise of the public. Urban centres were the site of the new public discourse and the market had a vested interest in new commercial organs of discourse. Literary periodicals and newspapers were read and discussed in the coffee houses, the public's initial institutional base, by members of a relatively wide social stratum between 1680 and 1730. In turn, vigorous public debate, along with the abolition of censorship in 1695, entailed the emergence of new literary and political journals such as The Craftsman in 1726 (Habermas, 1989).

But it was primarily against the state, as an independent, critical watchdog, that the public constituted itself. And again the state was reciprocally shaped by the public insofar as parliamentary representatives were drawn from its ranks and were made accountable to it.

In his later writings, Habermas presents a less historical, more abstract analysis but he is still concerned with public discourse -- communicative action -- in relation to the state, the economy, and the family. He superimposes a system-lifeworld dichotomy on top of the public-private one to fit all four institutions into a neat schema.1 The public system and lifeworld correspond to the bureaucratic state administration and the political realm of debate and opinion formation; the private system and lifeworld map on to the economy and family respectively (Fraser, 1985).

Habermas' move towards abstract theory removes much of the dialectical fluidity of the earlier categories. Nonetheless his thesis remains the same. The public sphere is said to undergo a structural transformation over the course of the decades between the mid-nineteenth century, when non-landed British men won the vote, and the mid-twentieth century when politics became managed via mass-mediated public opinion. Each of the four features mentioned above is affected resulting in an overall deficit of democracy. With the abolition of property and education restrictions for citizenship, (1) formal inclusivity was indeed realized. However, it also happened (2) that the general interest was fragmented into competing interest claims, (3) that status was no longer bracketed but became the prime topic of political debate and, ultimately, (4) that rational-critical discourse degenerated to consumption of mass-mediated political spectacle. In brief, the bourgeois public sphere had been "refeudalized" or lapsed back into its aristocratic precursor: public display or representation of power before the people (Habermas, 1989).2

The causes Habermas cites for the public's alleged decline are numerous. Internally, the inclusion of less educated individuals decreased the quality of public debate. Externally, the welfare state legitimated competing interests claims when it began to regulate them. As well, the increasing profit-orientation of the press under monopoly capitalism resulted in entertainment values beating out those of information. In his later terminology, the public sphere had been colonized by bureaucratic and economic systems.

In 1926, the conservative critic Walter Lippmann had made a similar argument about the commercialization of politics from a politically right-wing perspective, and this might explain why Habermas has been eagerly appropriated by neo-conservatives (Robbins, 1993). But Habermas wants to speak for the left. He wants to move forward from both the elite bourgeois public as well as from the neo-feudal mass public in order to realize the liberal promise of universal emancipation. He thus advocates that all social institutions (with the notable exception of the family) should be democratized or made accountable to a renewed critical publicity. However he does not give much indication of how this could be done. Nor does he offer a vision of which institutions could be the base of the new publicity (Calhoun, 1992).

It has also been pointed out how much Habermas idealizes the bourgeois public sphere.3 Its decisions have not come about by the force of argument alone. Critics are therefore dubious about his account which privileges an imagined universality over actually existing diversity. They also question his valorization of the quality of discourse over the quantity of participation in democracy (Calhoun, 1992). This devaluation of quantity can perhaps be traced back to critical theory's prime evil: reification. For Habermas this means the colonization of the lifeworld by an abstract systems logic. For women and other status minorities, however, some forms of reification -- such as bureaucratic welfare rights, for example -- are the lesser of evils compared to sexism and racism. As Nancy Fraser (1985) has suggested, such rights have in many cases been emancipatory for women, giving them some measure of economic independence from the traditional male head of the household.

Fraser's alternative public

Fraser's feminist critique of Habermas offers a less idealistic account of the public. On the one hand, she commends Habermas' analysis for its analytic clarity and comprehensiveness. He is able to account for the public-private oppositions of liberals (state-economy), civic republicans (community-economy), and feminists (economy-family) in one conceptual schema. She further believes that the notion of a public sphere is productive for social theory because it provides a more critical analysis than concepts like community which tend to obscure internal differences (Fraser, 1992, 1993). Moreover, she adds that it is only on the basis of rational public discourse that political critique is possible. "It is the idea of the public sphere that provides the conceptual condition of possibility for the revisionist critique of its imperfect realization" (Fraser, 1993, p. 29). On the other hand, Fraser argues that all four features of Habermas' public sphere need to be democratically expanded.4

First, Fraser argues that there has never been a single inclusive public sphere, not even in principle. In "What's Critical About Critical Theory?" Fraser (1985) took issue with the androcentrism of the bourgeois public sphere. She exposed its historical and continuing gender bias or what she, following Dorothy Smith, called the "gender subtext" of citizenship. For instance, citizenship duties include military service but not childcare.

In her more recent work, "Rethinking the Public Sphere" (Fraser, 1993), she draws on Geoff Eley's historical analysis to reveal competing publics -- Chartist, Marxist, and suffragette movements; women's voluntary organizations; or plebeian publics -- which Habermas' account strikingly omitted. The bourgeois public was constituted not only against the state, economy, and family but in struggles against these counterpublics as well.5 These publics are therefore not derivatives of an expanding bourgeois public but have their own independent traditions (Eley, 1992). Calhoun (1992) in particular notes that the plebeian public was also active in implementing the so-called bourgeois freedom of the press. To accept Habermas' version, then, is to "[accept] at face value the bourgeois public's claim to be the public" (Fraser, 1993, p. 7). An account of multiple publics is therefore more accurate as well as more inclusive.

Seyla Benhabib (1992) explicitly disputes Fraser's interpretation of a single Habermasian public: "in principle there can be as many publics as there are discourses concerning controversial norms.... [T]he `public' sphere of the pornography debate is not necessarily coextensive with the public sphere of the foreign policy debate" (p. 119 n). This reading, however, seems to indicate Benhabib's own position more than that of Habermas, who still talks about portions of the public in these situations: "A portion of the public sphere is constituted in every conversation in which private persons come together to form a public.... Citizens act as a public when they deal with issues of general interest without being subject to coercion" (Habermas, 1993, p. 398). This recent statement also shows that Habermas, despite criticism, still wants to restrict public discussions to general political interests or the common good. This brings us to the second point.

Fraser (1993) argues that enlarging the definition of political discourse is more democratic in socially stratified societies such as ours. Publics are arenas for the formation of identities and interests as well as opinions. To exclude some issues a priori as "special interests" ignores the fact that general interests can only be constituted in a discourse that includes everyone on an equal footing. Since this is impossible in societies with systemic class, race, and gender privileges, it is necessary for non-dominant groups to withdraw from the mainstream into separate enclaves where they can develop their own voices and discover their own interests in a supportive environment (Fraser, 1985, 1993). Fraser does not celebrate diversity for its own sake, however. She believes it is also necessary for counterpublics to intersect in order to discuss issues of global import. And Fraser leaves the question of a general interest open. It is to be answered empirically rather than theoretically assumed.

Third, Fraser argues that rationality is not the great equalizer that Habermas makes it out to be. Indeed, she claims it is counterproductive, if not impossible, to bracket social inequalities in stratified societies. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's work, she claims social status is always marked by cultural styles. So even if it was possible to act as if all were equal participants in debate, such bracketing would work to the advantage of the privileged who convert their views into a false "we." She quotes Jane Mansfield: "the transformation of `I' into `we' brought about through political deliberation can easily mask subtle forms of control. Subordinate groups sometimes cannot find the right voice or words to express their thoughts, and when they do, they discover they are not heard" (in Fraser, 1993, p. 11). Putting social inequalities on the agenda, therefore, constitutes an advance toward and not a retreat from democracy because it adds new voices -- voices which speak for themselves -- to the debate. More importantly, inequalities of class, race, and gender can now be critically addressed rather than left as unquestioned ideologies.

Finally, Fraser points to the androcentricism of rational-critical discourse itself. Historically, this discourse was defined as explicitly masculine against the "effeminate" style of the aristocratic salon. A "new, austere style of public speech and behavior was promoted, a style deemed `rational,' `virtuous,' and `manly' " (Fraser, 1993, p. 5). The republican rhetoric of the 1780s drew on the classical Roman tradition that had etymologically linked "testimony" and "testicle," "public" and "pubic" (Fraser, 1993, p. 6). (In Latin the word for public had been populus, referring to the people, but this evolved into publicus under the influence of pubes meaning adult men [OED].) Habermas does in fact document the exclusion of women from coffee-house society, but his interpretation obscures how integral this exclusion was to the bourgeois public.

The exclusion of women from rational discourse has its contemporary variants. Fraser considers the case of rape: "the legal test of rape often boils down to whether a `reasonable man' would have assumed that the woman had consented. Consider what this means when both popular and legal opinion widely hold that when a woman says `no' she means `yes' " (Fraser, 1985, pp. 115-116). What this means is that women are not taken seriously as discursive agents. Recent feminist empirical research in North America supports this claim by showing how much more discursive space men take up in relation to women: talking first, more often, and longer; interrupting more; ignoring women's contributions or attributing them to other men (Fraser, 1993; Smith, 1987; Tannen, 1990). Feminist linguist Deborah Tannen has even distinguished men's and women's discursive styles along public-private lines. She characterizes (North American) male talk generally as "report-talk," a style which displays knowledge and skill in public. Women, on the other hand, tend to use "rapport-talk" or to speak in a more private and intimate manner using personal anecdotes for the primary purpose of relating with others. Fraser does not cite Tannen's work, nor would she go so far as to essentialize women's discursive styles or to "feminize" reason in the sense of giving personal interaction precedence over the exchange of ideas. Nevertheless, she does want to expand the current notion of reason to accommodate women's full participation in discourse. And her critique of the universality of bourgeois reason can easily be extended to include the discursive practices of race and class constituencies as well, though Fraser is not explicit on this point.

Fraser goes on to criticize the later Habermas' rigid boundary distinctions. His idealization of the family as a communicative rather than a systemically integrated sphere results from a radical separation which precludes him from recognizing the family's economic and power dynamics. Habermas' equally rigid separation between the state and the public leads him to allow only for a "weak" public sphere of discussion as opposed to a "strong" public where decisions are made. Fraser, by contrast, argues that a combination of both weak and strong publics is needed to make the public sphere more democratic. She starts out from "actually existing" stratified society whereas Habermas, especially in his later work, considers foremost the ideal democracy. One result is that he lauds critical publicity per se while she looks at the context, taking into account who has the power to draw the lines between public and private. In the controversy over Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination, for instance, Thomas had the aid of Washington strategists who were able to keep his sexual life relatively more private (including his taste for pornography) while Anita Hill's sexual character was the subject of constant mainstream media speculation (Fraser, 1992).

While I agree with all of Fraser's criticisms, I would add here that an even stronger notion of the public is needed, one which takes political action into account as well. By "action," I mean a variety of practices of varying physical modalities. Examples of feminist action would include such things as protecting patients at abortion clinics, demonstrating in the streets, setting up women of colour caucuses, or lobbying for more feminist research. Fraser seems to have this broader understanding in mind when she speaks of strong publics as "self-managing institutions" (1993, p. 25), but she does not spell it out, perhaps because action has always played a subordinate role in critical theory. The category of action is important, however, because it reminds us that we are embodied citizens.

To sum up, Fraser's critique of Habermas offers a more realistic and more democratic conceptualization of the public sphere. This entails a space made up of (1) many intersecting publics, (2) where both particular interests as well as common goals may be constituted and (3) contested, and where (4) the concept of rational discourse is broadened to include the full range of women's discursive practices. This is a more democratic account because it is open to more people and because social inequalities are critically reflected. It is more realistic because it better addresses both the past as well as the future, opening up the possibility for a real rather than an imagined general interest.

The university as public sphere

Mobilizing this alternative account of the public we can now interrogate Innis' narrative of decline which idealizes the university. A link between the university and the public sphere should come as no surprise. Despite its feudal and religious origins, the university was from the start tied to the renaissance of urban life in the twelfth century. A papal edict of 1163 had given the secular, urban clergy control over education thus ending the previous monastic monopoly (Baldwin & Goldthwaite, 1972). Market forces were also at work here insofar as education was changing its aim from training future clergy to training administrators for the growing towns. The university was to evolve in dialectical relation with the bourgeois public sphere. It educated upper- and middle-class male citizens in rational debate and was, in turn, secularized with the changing rationality of the public sphere.6

The structural transformation of the university from an elite to a so-called mass institution exhibits features similar to those of the public sphere, though it has changed more slowly. This suggests how conservative an institution the university has traditionally been. Around the same time as the struggles for the franchise, universities also became (1) more inclusive, officially opening their doors to non-propertied men and women. But it was only after the Second World War, under state pressure, that Western universities began to admit large numbers of students. In particular, the 1944 American G.I. bill and its counterpart in Canada opened up higher education to members of underprivileged classes. As a result, there was (2) a proliferation of interests. With the birth of the new social movements during the 1960s and 1970s, (3) politics was put on the academic agenda. Finally, in the last two decades (4) rational discourse itself has been challenged.

Contemporary critics of these developments for the most part laud (1) the growing inclusivity of the university. But just as Fraser (1985, 1992, 1993) and Eley (1992) exposed the exclusions of the liberal public sphere, we need to reveal the university's historical and continuing exclusion of women and other status minorities. This exclusion may well be "an interesting historical fact" (Searle, 1993, p. 704) with some interesting exceptions -- such as Sra. Calderini and her daughters, Novella and Bettina, at the University of Bologna in the thirteenth century or Elena Cornaro Piscopia at Padua in 1687 and Dorothea Erxleben at Halle in 1754 -- but it is also a fact intrinsic to the academy's self-understanding and this has ongoing effects (Lie & O'Leary, 1990; Rudy, 1984; Schiebinger, 1989).

Beginning in the thirteenth century, ever greater numbers of women were taking up cloistered lives and gaining an education (Bynum, 1987), but they remained excluded from the university. This exclusion often took "spectacular" forms. For example, Jacoba Felice was tried and sentenced to burn in 1322 by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Paris for practising medicine without a university licence (Ehrenreich & English, 1973). This judgment was legitimated on the basis of medieval scholastic reason or logos spermatikos (OED). Felice was judged as a carnal creature incapable of reason. That she successfully treated her patients meant, therefore, she was in league with the devil. Modern exclusion, on the other hand, has been legitimated scientifically. As late as the nineteenth century, it was argued that thinking was unnatural for women because it caused menstrual blood to be drawn away from the reproductive organs (Caplan, 1993).

Not surprisingly then, women did not make inroads into the academy until 1821 when Troy Female Seminary in the United States became the first women's college. The first established institution to open its doors to (white and black) women was Oberlin College in 1833. In Canada, Mount Allison admitted women in 1862 and in Europe the University of Zurich followed suit in 1867 (Lie & O'Leary, 1990; Light & Parr, 1983; Rudy, 1984).

The new admissions policies were not the result of any growing inclusivity on the part of the bourgeois public. On the contrary, women's right to vote came later and was historically contingent on the legitimation that a university education provided. In Canada women received the franchise in 1918, 56 years after Mount Allison first allowed women to enroll. Thus women were admitted to higher education because of agitation on the part of the counterpublics. In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft had written about women: "cultivate their minds, give them the salutary sublime curb of principle, and let them attain conscious dignity by feeling themselves only dependent on God. Teach them in common with man, to submit to necessity, instead of giving, to render them more pleasing, a sex to morals" (Wollstonecraft, 1975, p. 121).

The struggle to admit women has been long and protracted since university entrance did not immediately guarantee attendance at lectures with men or the granting of degrees, much less the opportunity to teach. High-prestige, well-established institutions held out the longest. Consider that while Oxford opened women's colleges, such as Somerville, in the 1870s it was only a century later in 1979 that Balliol finally admitted women.

Though women are no longer formally excluded from the academy today, the androcentrism of the university persists as the chilly climate. This atmospheric metaphor refers to the unwelcoming academic environment for women due to a systemic male bias. I would like to extend the term to cover a Eurocentric bias against women of colour as well. Roberta Hall & Bernice Sandler named the phenomenon in 1982 and since then there have been numerous studies on the male norm of the university. In her comprehensive survey of research on women in the academy, Lifting a Ton of Feathers, Paula Caplan documents what she calls the "academic funnel" or the shrinking numbers of women as one moves up the academic ladder. During the last decade in the United States, 50% of undergraduates were women while only 35% of graduate students, 25% of faculty, and 10% of full professors were female (Caplan, 1993). According to the administration here at Simon Fraser University in 1996, the figures were closer to 57%, 49%, 24%, and 12% respectively.7 There are also large gender disparities in certain graduate programs, such as engineering and applied science with 13% women or library science with 77% women (Caplan, 1993; Dagg & Thompson, 1988). Visible minorities, too, are underrepresented. According to Statistics Canada, 13% of British Columbia's population is made up of visible minorities, but they represent less than 8% of SFU faculty. In my own academic experience since 1980 I have been taught by only four (white) female professors -- one each in my undergraduate and graduate philosophy programs, and two in my doctoral studies in communication.

In qualitative terms, a white male norm for the university means a preponderance of women in part-time and non-tenure track teaching positions; in lower-status institutions, such as community colleges; with heavier teaching responsibilities and lower salaries, especially for women of colour; and very few women at the high levels of administration. It means daily exposure to sexist comments, the devaluation of feminist work, a lack of role models, and a double standard in teaching evaluations (Caplan, 1993).8 For women of colour it means, in addition, isolation, humiliation, and performance anxiety (hooks, 1989). So despite emancipatory gains like gender neutral language, sexual harassment policies, and more ethnic studies departments, many women continue to be excluded from full participation in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The contemporary backlash on affirmative action and multicultural curriculum reform hides these continuing biases.

Cultural feminists may counter that many women have deliberately chosen the slower-paced and less-prestigious "family track" in academics. But having made this choice myself I would add that this decision is made under duress because it occurs in a context of gender inequality. In fact, it reveals another systemic male bias in the family which ensures that women still undertake the lion's share of domestic responsibilities (Segal, 1990). And if cultural feminists believe that nurturing work should be valued more highly than work in the public sphere, they must beware of falling into an essentialism which posits that women can best perform this work. In any case, women in the university need to agitate on two broad fronts. We need to defend affirmative action policies in order to gain entry into the traditional ranks and become successful role models, and at the same time we need to make the university more female-friendly, with more feminist research as well as better parental leave and daycare.

Chilly climate studies have opened up new research questions and increased our understanding of social processes and cultural privileges. They have thus revealed the politicized university to be a desirable state of affairs. "Defenders of the university tradition," as Searle (1993, p. 694) calls them, are less optimistic.9 They are worried about the university's (2) loss of universality and lament the fact that the university no longer functions as a site where public intellectuals speak out on behalf of society. During the height of the student movement (which Searle characterized as "semi-religious, populist hysteria" [1972, p. 197]), Habermas had thought that the university could become an institutional base for critical public discourse. He added to the university's functions of transmitting technical knowledge, cultural traditions, and political consciousness to students, a new function of raising public awareness (Habermas, 1970). Despite his critique of their radical actions, Habermas believed that students had regenerated critical discourse in Germany and initiated much-needed democratic reforms in the universities as well as in the education, press, and justice sectors. The student movement was even said to show a further potential for the "radical reform" of social institutions that Habermas believed had superseded the notion of Marxian revolution in the West.

Students are not a class, they are not even the avant-garde of a class, and they are certainly not leading a revolutionary struggle.... On the other hand, I would not reject a broad historical perspective. There are several signs ... that the potential of the youth movement is growing.... [I]t may become the motive force of a long-term process of transformation that prevents foreseeable catastrophes on an international scale and makes possible a measure of emancipation domestically. (Habermas, 1970, p. 48)

Here the university is a portion of the public because its members speak as private citizens about general political matters. But Habermas later recanted, claiming that the university community, like the new social movements it spawned, failed to realize this potential because it retreated once more into particularism: "the public is split apart into minorities of specialists who put their reason to use nonpublicly and the great mass of consumers whose receptiveness is public but uncritical" (1989, p. 175).

Contrary to both appearance and rhetoric, the word "university" is not historically derived from any notion of universality. It comes from a twelfth-century Latin word, universitas, meaning a legal collectivity or guild such as that of students or teachers or shoemakers (Rudy, 1984). The fact that the study of women and racial-ethnic minorities is concentrated in special programs shows how far there is to go before status minorities are counted an integral part of the university. And until feminist research is carried out in every discipline, we need women's and ethnic studies departments along with women's centres as supportive sites of identity and interest formation. Here innovative methodologies and practices can be tried out. These spaces are specialized but no more particularized, no more sexually or racially situated, than traditional philosophy departments. In Fraser's words, "the new social meanings we give our needs and our bodies, our new social identities and conception of femininity can [not] be dismissed as particularist lapses from universalism. For these are no more particularist than the sexist and androcentric meanings and norms they are meant to replace" (1985, p. 129). The increasing particularism of the university, then, is no retreat from universality but another precondition for real rather than imagined universality. Woman-friendly spaces constitute new publics that add more varied voices to the university community.

Searle (1993) and Dinesh D'Souza (1991) also worry that (3) putting political issues on the university agenda means jeopardizing academic standards. To consider status inequalities in hiring or curriculum decisions, however, does not mean displacing reason with politics. Rather, it means broadening our intellectual horizons to understand the relations between knowledge and power. Searle (1993) will not admit that the university has always been political, claiming that this conflates two separate issues: political objectives and political consequences. Nonetheless, the university has a history rich with political objectives, both conservative and radical. Its political radicalism can be traced back to 1848 when students and faculty in Vienna set up barricades at the university and were successful in forcing Metternich to flee the city (Rudy, 1984); to 1409 when Reform-minded masters at Prague were successful in wresting control of the university from German hands; even back to 1237 when the University of Bologna was established as a guild by students in order to attain the clerical privileges of the day, such as exemptions from taxation and corporal punishment: "As a clergyman the scholar's person was regarded as sacred, and any physical abuse was regarded as sacrilege, punishable by severe penance and spiritual disability" (Baldwin & Goldthwaite, 1972, p. 9).

Finally Paul Piccone's (1989) "aging" New Left views lead him to worry about (4) the decline of reason in the academy. I am drafting an expression of Adorno's into service here. By the "aging of the new music," Adorno wanted to point to the dogmatism of Schönberg's disciples. By the same token, I want to point to the dogma of some strands of New Left thought which remain hermetically sealed in the 1960s and walled up against new theoretical developments like poststructuralism or feminism.

At a time when the culture industry has not only successfully marketed gender homogenization, but also mediatized it through autonomous "progressive" women's movements, the most immediate victims of this revolutionary social engineering strategy to subvert traditional institutional forms are having second thoughts about the price they have paid for their "emancipation." Career women ... in the 1970s bought feminist ideology lock, stock and barrel as the quick-fix for every conceivable evil and are now on the verge of middle-age, still single, divorced, separated, childless or otherwise liberated from those binding allegedly phallocratic, social relations which, however, are a necessary condition for a meaningful life.... (Piccone, 1989, p. 127)

Piccone (1989) invokes the ritual lament against such developments: the "impossibility of deriving any objectively valid criteria of evaluation" (p. 125). But few feminists want to abandon objectivity. They merely want to expand the concept to include their perspectives and practices. The university is where rationality is defined and the university is a logical place to contest it. This again can only expand the boundaries of our knowledge.

Each of these narratives of declining reason, standards, and universality idealizes the university and thus defends the status quo. This is most explicit with D'Souza (1991). According to him, university students "hope to shape themselves as whole human beings both intellectually and morally. Brimming with idealism, they wish to prepare themselves for full and independent lives in the workplace, at home, and as citizens who are shared rulers of a democratic society" (pp. 229-230). In today's economic climate, though, most students I know are mainly trying to secure their futures. And for all students, though especially those that are female, working class, or visible minorities, the university today is a tremendous advance on the past. Though there remains enormous scope for improvement, it has become a more democratic institution and these changes have added to our knowledge of social processes and power relations as well as offering new methodologies and points of view.


In this paper I have argued that Fraser's understanding of the public sphere lets us conceptualize the university as one of many publics where both particular and general interests may be constituted and contested through an expanded conception of rational discussion. The university today is not, strictly speaking, a single public but a number of intersecting weak and strong publics. These publics are constituted by women's studies departments, ethnic students' associations, unions, electronic mail lists for "academic freedom," and so on. Each is a site of discussion, decision, and action connected with other universities as well as to broader publics, such as feminist movements or New Right parties. Despite traditional public intellectuals such as Habermas and Innis, the university is not in decline for many of these publics. Indeed, according to a newer breed of intellectuals like Bourdieu, the university is a privileged site for political action because it is at the intersection of many disciplines. Here experts from various fields can form political alliances to handle larger issues. Alongside traditional intellectuals these "specific" intellectuals, to use Foucault's term, are addressing a great variety of problems from their own areas of research such as reproductive ethics or the commercialization of the university (Foucault, 1980). In light of the global complexities of contemporary problems, it seems to me that only a multitude of publics can even begin to address them.

Still, the university is a special kind of public, one which remains privileged with respect to both knowledge and power. If it no longer has a monopoly of knowledge it retains a certain oligopoly. Its function of transmitting technical and cultural capital to future generations helps maintain existing hierarchies of power and knowledge for the upper and middle classes. Nonetheless, its simultaneous function of forming critical political awareness can serve to challenge these same oligopolies. The university today is in tension with itself precisely because it is made up of competing publics. It remains an open question whether progressive or reactionary tendencies are dominant and the answer will vary with geographical region as well as with the age and status of the particular institution. This means that women in the university must continue to combat entrenched anti-feminist values along with the newer voices of backlash that are gaining ground. In order to shatter the remaining systemic biases in the university, women need to be legitimated by the institution. With this (rather limited) power we can develop alternative, more inclusive theoretical models and help break up oligopolies of knowledge. The university may not be a vanguard of social change with intellectuals leading, but it is a microcosm of struggles in broader public spheres.


This typifies Habermas' attempt to integrate philosophy and the empirical social sciences in order to give a critical-interpretative renewal to the latter. The lifeworld is a concept that comes from phenomenology. Husserl meant by the term the realm of ordinary consciousness that makes scientific knowledge possible, though in Habermas' linguistic framework it becomes the realm of non-coercive (in principle) communication. The notion of system is borrowed from Luhmann's systems theory to refer to self-regulating, cybernetic organizations that are indispensable to the management of complex modern societies.
The precursor to bourgeois public opinion on the "lower" hand had been the aggregate of common, unreasoned opinion (Habermas, 1989).
In a 1992 reply to his critics, Habermas admits he idealized the public sphere in the 1962 / 1989 book by conflating an ideal type with a descriptive historical account. He now admits historical contestation among competing publics, but he nonetheless maintains that the bourgeois public has a monopoly on critical reason (Calhoun, 1992).
In her most recent work in this area, Fraser (1993) emphasizes the first three features as well as Habermas' rigid boundary distinctions between civil society and the state. In an earlier piece (Fraser, 1985), she focuses on the fourth feature and Habermas' rigid distinctions between the family and the economy. I have taken the liberty of highlighting those aspects of her critique which dovetail with Habermas' articulation of the public sphere.
Rita Felski (1989) has developed a similar notion of a feminist counterpublic, one based on shared gender identity. I find Fraser's understanding more useful, however, because it acknowledges differences among women as well as among feminists at the outset.
We might set the dates of university secularization in the United Kingdom between 1719, when Edinburgh created a new chair for civil history, and 1877, when Oxford officially abandoned its religious (Anglican) and celibacy restrictions for fellows (Rudy, 1984).
The figures for women faculty have been surprisingly constant over the course of the century. Consider that there were 19% women faculty in 1931.
Dorothy Smith (1987) cites Goldberg's empirical study of the evaluation of academic papers, controlled for gender, which showed that those with male names attached were consistently rated higher on a number of criteria, such as writing style and profundity. Sue Basow (1994) also notes that women are judged by a double standard. Unlike men who are only expected to conform to their own gender stereotypes, women are expected to exhibit both stereotypically male behaviour such as competence as well as stereotypically female behaviour like availability and warmth.
Searle (1993) actually applies the term "defender" more narrowly to those on the political right who stick by the established canons while he himself wants to admit more "quality" works by women and other status minorities. He thus positions himself as a middle path between the right and the left. But when he comes to actually naming quality works, they are not only from the existing European canon, they are Anglo-American: Joyce and Hemingway. D'Souza (1991) adopts a similar rhetorical strategy when he positions himself as the middle path between bigots on the one hand and supporters of "reverse discrimination" on the other.


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