Columbia University President Lee Bollinger writes a thoughtful essay on what the purposes of universities are.
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Universities remain meaningful because they respond to the deepest of human needs, to the desire to understand and to explain that understanding to others. A spirited curiosity coupled with a caring about others (the essence of what we call humanism) is a simple and unquenchable human drive, certainly as profound an element of human nature as the more often cited interests in property and power, around which we organize the economic and political systems. Moreover, universities at their best have nurtured a distinctive intellectual atmosphere in which one is forced to live in a world of seemingly infinite complexity, while holding onto the natural but quixotic hope that someday it all will be resolved.
Read the whole thing. If I get a free link, I'll put it up. (Some of our readers are generous this way.)