Return to ‘Universitas:’ Public Knowledge as University’s Panacea


(LATIN) the whole, total, the universe, the world; from noun form universus (all turned into one).

“Freedom in a commons ruins all,” said Garret Hardin. Writing in 1968 over concerns of overpopulation and its subsequent symptoms—pollution, starvation, narcissism, and/or over-extraction of natural resources—Hardin postulated that society had all but entirely invested into the belief that over-breeding is a universal human right. This belief, said Hardin, directly erodes the commons—a shared space with resources meant to benefit more than the individual. Under this premise, it is understood that humanity creates tragic circumstances that inevitably lead to the destruction of the commons; namely 100% equal and open access to public resources. While state sanctioned and substantiated welfare acts as a catalyst behind this tragedy, Hardin also understood that solely individual consumption of commons’ resources is similarly debilitating by encouraging selfish belief that resources exist for the common welfare of individuals. His solution: ‘resources’ must be considered as primarily commons, in that they require management and sustainable distribution.

Hardin’s lamentation’s strike at the heart of modern university issues that are becoming more isolated in their resources shared, for-profit attitude in marketing to potential students by promising employment stepping grounds, heavily outweighed funding for natural sciences vs. humanities (and simultaneous defunding of both over time), and, as a result, a degrading ethic in scholarship that presssures underpaid, borderline exploited researchers that pushes to commit gross violations in academic integrity.

The original universita  embodied a public vision and open knowledge forum. In the 21st century the modern university is far from such an institution. Take for instance the commonly claimed overused and whitewashed labeling of interdisciplinary scholarship.’ Cross-linguistic, disciplinary, and nationality collaboration within the ‘sciences’ is directly contingent upon the cultural literacy of the scientific community. Were it not, the advancement made in tracing, for example, human impact on global temperatures, erosion effects of deforestation, or the devastating physiological effects of smoking would not be as widespread. Cultural literacy was requisite in the cross-global dispersal of this knowledge. Thus, the argument that anything remotely pertinent to the study of human experiences and interaction as a waste of the public commons is ignorantly fallacious.Similar can be said to the sciences, who guide and provide method in deducing the natural world.

Returning the university to an internal and external commons for shared knowledge and community cooperation without financial barriers is the ultimate panacea. The professoriate need to similarities not differences, look internationally and not stay insular to a national model of higher education.


Hardin, Garrett. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162 (1968): 1243-1248.

One Reply to “Return to ‘Universitas:’ Public Knowledge as University’s Panacea”

  1. I so enjoyed reading your post! I read SO MUCH Hardin as an undergraduate Environmental Studies student, and it was so fun to revisit him! I absolutely agree that the future professoriate should not “stay insular” as a model of higher education. Thanks for writing!

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