Unique and Essential Concepts

AuthorCheryl Foy
 
Unique and Essential Concepts
is book is intended to help new governors and those new to working
in university governance understand universities and university culture. As
such, it has to tackle some of the key concepts essential to understanding the
sector. Several of these concepts are intertwined and interdependent. Board
members should understand these concepts because they are central to the
board’s ability to serve as stewards of their universities, central to the board’s
ability to advance the mission of their institution, and central to ensuring
that universities full their important roles in society.
Board members will hear the words “academic,” “academy,” “academe,” and
“academia” used regularly. Merriam-Webster shares the following fascinating
information about the root of these words: “Our word academy comes
from the Greek word Akademeia, the name of the park or grove outside of
ancient Athens where the philosopher Plato taught his students.”
“Academic” will be used both as an adjective and as a noun. As an adjec-
tive, it can be used to describe those matters falling within the purview of a
university’s academic council or senate. As a noun, it describes those engaged
1 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/
91Unique and Essential Concepts
in the scholarly activities of teaching and research at the university. “Aca-
deme” is dened as “thepartofsociety,especiallyuniversities, that iscon-
nectedwithstudyandthinking and “academia” has a similar denition but
also includes “the activity or job of studying, as in “working in academia.”
In his books, Peter MacKinnon talks about universities as a “commons” or
a site for debate, discussion, and collaboration. Many universities use this
concept to describe virtual or physical places they create to support learn-
ing. MacKinnon describes the commons as an ideal, and his description
conveys the importance and scope of the space that universities create for
the advancement of knowledge:
A platform or space for the debate, discussion, and collaboration that are
both inherent in and essential to the idea of the university. is space is
multidimensional and has varying degrees of formality. It is to be found
in the governance framework and networks; in campus assemblies, asso-
ciations and clubs; in classrooms and boardrooms, and common rooms;
in myriad gatherings of university communities and individuals on and
o campus; and in the social media. Its dimensions are physical and
hyper-physical, and it is pervasive.
Board members will encounter the concept of commons in various
ways in the university setting. In fact, the commons is what is at the heart
of a university, and board members will do well to remember that this is
what they are protecting and preserving.
Preserving institutional autonomy is an important role for the board and
it’s not an easy undertaking. When we talk about institutional auton-
omy, we mean institutional freedom from political and partisan control.
In the early s, “provincial governments in Ontario were excessively
2 “Academe,” Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.), online: Cambridge University Press
3 “Academia,” Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.), online Cambridge University Press
4 Peter MacKinnon, University Commons Divided: Exploring Debate & Dissent on Campus
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018) at 4.

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