A research university has a responsibility to all those who participate in it–the research professionals (including, but not limited to professors, librarians, and laboratory technicians), students, instructors, and supporting communities. What, though, is this responsibility?
I argue that the primary responsibility is to foster an atmosphere that encourages learning, both immediately and extending through life. Creating lifelong learners is important, as it makes university education and research relevant beyond the years of education and beyond the campus.
The purpose of a liberal education is to expand student knowledge beyond their specialized majors. By learning about other fields, we find fields of information that interest us, which become nodes that connect to each other, making a web of knowledge. When we make these webs, we become more able to connect with other people, engaging in a broader human community.
Research professionals help to create knowledge, a privilege afforded by the position of the university, and the processes of disseminating it, connecting and adapting it with other pieces of knowledge prolong the life of that knowledge in the academy.
The broader community of the university is not limited to networks of researchers, academics, and alumni. The geographical community that surrounds the university also enjoys the benefits of the university. In this regard, the university has a responsibility to allow community members into events that showcase the university’s work.
In promoting lifelong learning, the university extends its life and its meaning. It is not only a responsibility to the people, but to the course of knowledge itself.