Socrates roamed the streets of Athens offending. The youth of Athens, who were intoxicated by his bristling brilliance, and drawn to the spectacles he created as he unmasked his fellow Athenians’ claims to knowledge, trailed behind to watch and later imitate him.
The recent architectural addition to Northwestern Law School where I teach – a lovely, three-floor, glass-clad space with high ceilings – reflects a new direction of legal education. The first-floor has a café with fifty seats and a patio looking out on Lake Michigan. The next two floors are conducive to collaboration, consisting of study rooms and open spaces with comfortable chairs. The only classroom in this section has no rows of seats or even a lectern but is instead full of tables and audiovisual screens, suitable for negotiation and problem solving even at long distance.
The new space emphasizes an increasingly important part of elite education generally—the opportunity to network with other highly skilled individuals. One can think of higher education as providing three distinct services: transferring information and skills, signaling the quality of students to employers, providing professional networking opportunities for students.
Nothing better represents the decline of the first function than the plight of the university library.