December the Janus-faced month
December is already part of next year. The genuine Janus-faced month isn’t January but the inaccurately monikered “tenth” month of our twelve-month calendar. In other words, December is a forward-looking month, a month turned towards the future. Think of it, by the time December 1st rolls around, one’s sights are already set towards the end of the month with its time of feasts and holidays. The month as a whole can be seen as one long build-up for the main events that take place during the last week of the month.
(This article is part of our Current Events series)
December’s place in our hearths is partly due to a luck of the draw, or rather scheduling. For aeon, the winter solstice posits itself literally at that pivotal moment of the year when, after the darkest of days, things only get brighter and brighter. December, for both Christians and practicing capitalists, is synonymous with Christmas, the feast of a newborn whose birthday is a day of gift-giving. Its forward-looking trait becomes all the more evident: a newborn baby is the future. Each birth represents a new beginning for, as Hannah Arendt puts it, “with each birth something uniquely new comes into the world.” A new birth brings hope, it also carries a new sense of obligation. Coincidentally, Christmas has been secularized into a day of giving and receiving presents. According to Marcel Mauss, gift-giving was more than just a question of “having”, it was a matter of “being” and nurturing the ties that kept society together. Gift-giving at Christmas is a way for society to perpetuate itself through a mechanism of reciprocity: society’s present (or parents) bestows gifts on future members of society (children) who in kind are acculturated to notions of mutual obligation and recognition ensuring that the cycle repeats itself.
Roman law brought gift-giving out from the pre-social sphere of the family to the public sphere and radically transformed it: gifts are replaced by sales which are covered by contract law based on principles independent of the whims of the parties involved. The body that perpetuates the project of maintaining the ties that bind past to the present and the present to the future has been, since the Middle Ages, the institution the prime example of which being the university itself. The ties that bind members of the university together are not merely personal, voluntarily gifted, ties but contractual ties with explicit sets of mutual obligations.
Let’s look closer. The matters of instruction proposed by the institution are chosen over time and through the accumulation of knowledge and experience of a great number of teachers; this is the institution as memory. Teachers can then be expected to mobilize what they possess today – their resources, their knowledge, their skill and above all their dedication and professionalism; this is the institution as people, the collective, or collegium. Understood separately or even combined together, they would still be without sense or purpose were it not for students. Properly understood, the university is thus a collective body rooted in the past, activated in the present for a goal that bears fruit in the future.
The courses taught this month of December at Schiller Paris are emblematic of this concern for the future of students. First, we provide Bachelor students GEB 1350 Introduction to International Business. Business students are thus provided an overall view of what they will encounter as professionals. They come to understand international business as students but the course lays the grounding for them to be actors as businesspeople. Next, Bachelor students in ECO 2013 Microeconomics are likewise presented tools, though of a more precise nature, to help them interpret and understand the world of commerce and exchange. Conceptual frameworks equipped with quantitative approaches will help them save that most precious of goods: time. A third course in December trains students in communication because to pursue a business career is to be continuously engaged in communicating with others; a cursory overview of the foremost works in business leadership and political biography testify to this. That is also to say that one leads and motivates people through speech; this goes much to explain the eminent role that EN 373 Public Speaking plays in the Bachelors curriculum. Finally, our Masters students were offered course instruction in what amounts to as a crucial step in their application for the double degree with partner institution, the University of Roehampton. Students in BA 589 Methods of Research and Analysis were presented the methodology and tools they’ll need when preparing for their thesis. Thanks to this research project, they stand not only to gain two Master’s-level degrees but they will also be better able to tackle challenges that will confront them as professionals.
The university exists for the good of society insofar as it prepares for the latter’s future members and leaders. As an institution, it binds together different constituencies – past, present and future – whose existences don’t necessarily overlap. As society in miniature, the institution is comprised of moral persons bound by a common destiny meaning that the university is understood less by where its constituent moral persons come from than by where they are going.