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The True Meaning of University Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 21 March 2017

The True Meaning of University

Edward W. Said’s (1991) discourse on academic freedom is truly about the establishment of the true meaning of university, which is to say that a “university” has got to be “universal” in terms of its curriculum. The author writes in “Identity, Authority, and Freedom: The Potentate and the Traveler,” published in Transition: “For all its problems, however, the American academy is a very different place than its counterpart in the Arab world. To suggest that there are any obvious similarities at all would be misrepresent each seriously.”

In the next paragraph, however, the author goes on to write about the similarities in the American and Arab education systems by stating that “in both a very great premium is placed upon the cultural and national identity of the education being offered” (See Appendix, passage from pp.10). So, there is an obvious similarity between the two systems being discussed – American education and Arab education. What is more, Said, in his own words, is “misrepresenting each seriously.”

Although the author is guilty of “misrepresenting each seriously,” in his own opinion, I do not believe that he is misrepresenting either academic system. On the contrary, Said is discussing the meaning of true academic freedom or the true meaning of university, as if to say that there should be a “universal” university on earth where all students are free to learn whatsoever they please. Or, there should be a university on earth which people from all over the globe can crowd to learn everything that can possibly be learned.

Neither the American, nor the Arab university is such a “universal” university. Moreover, there is no “universal” university at all on earth! Given that Said knows that it is imprudent to talk about universality in education today – about a “universal” university that teaches “everything” that can possibly be learned at university level – he indirectly refers to himself as one who misrepresents the academic systems of today. I believe that the author really should have described the actual academic freedom he goes on and on about in his article. The author should really have spoken about universality in education, bluntly.

All the same, I understand that it is impossible to talk about a “universal” university seeing that our world does not regulate itself through a “universal” government either. So therefore, academic institutions throughout the world would continue bringing cultural and national focus into the curriculum. And, students would continue learning new things with limited worldviews.

The meaning of “knowledge,” too, would continue to be misrepresented by each academic system. In short, Said cannot find a way out of academic limitedness in a divided world of cultures and nationalities. Furthermore, there is no possibility of academic freedom from the perspective of the student, seeing that he is only learning, and therefore subjected to all the forces that have shaped his education system. And so, actual academic freedom for all – even the student – or a “pure democracy” cannot be discussed in the matter of education anyway.


1. Said, Edward W. (1991). “Identity, Authority, and Freedom: The Potentate and the Traveler.” Transition, No. 54, pp. 4-18.

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