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Before and Beyond Collegiality: The Long History of University Governance

The College of Humanities and the Laboratory for the History of Science and Technology invite you to the eighth and last session of Pierre Mounier’s monthly seminar on Governing Digital Knowledge Infrastructures.

The traditional view on the governance of academia is that of a collegial organization. Collegiality would be a form of self-governance striving to reach consensus within a community of peers–a body of scholars sharing a certain ethos–whose representatives in higher deliberative assemblies are elected–primi inter pares.
Historically, this ideal could only be realized in very specific, somewhat paradoxical, conditions. In the Medieval university, collegial practices were restricted to small “bubbles” within specific faculties, under the authority of theology, and put to the service of a highly hierarchical order dedicated to the construction of the centralized Roman Church. Notably by censoring deviant opinion, collegiality was therefore an important tool for the sustainability of such a hierarchy. Still, oblivious of its history, some academics nowadays mobilize the collegial ideal as an argument to resist governance changes.
Indeed, over the past decades, academia has undergone dramatic changes, notably due to the New Public Management reforms, that have largely reconfigured its modes of governance. Due to the expansion and complexification of universities, bureaucratic characteristics embedded in management tools—such as performance metrics—and managerial practices—brought about by the professionalization of administration—have started to substitute, complement, or merge with collegial practices, generally resulting in an increase in control and hierarchy.
At the heart of this seminar, this kind of hybridization of multifarious governance practices is salient among knowledge infrastructures in the digital era. Increasingly digital and interconnected on a macro scale, as well as in relationships with other types of institutions, how do universities—as knowledge infrastructures—negotiate multiple, sometimes exogenous or hostile, governance practices?

For this session, two scholars are invited to discuss with us:

  • Christine Musselin is Directrice de recherche CNRS at the Centre de sociologie des organisations in Sciences Po Paris. She works on the transformations of Higher Education and research in a comparative perspective (notably France, Germany, US), more particularly in the most recent changes in university governance.
  • Sylvain Piron is Directeur d’études EHESS at the Centre de recherches historiques. His research focuses on the intellectual history from 12th to 14th century, and more particularly on a longue durée history of the medieval roots of contemporary economic thought. He is also editorial responsible for the recent publishing house Vues de l’esprit.


  • Christine Musselin, “University Governance in Meso and Macro Perspective”, Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 47, 2021, pp. 305-345.
  • Alexander Gieysztor, “Management and Resources”, in Walter Rüegg and H. De Ridder-Symoens (eds.), A History of the University in Europe, Volume 1 Universities in the Middle Ages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003 [1992], pp. 108-143. (Pdf available on demand.)

Hybrid setup

From: 31 May, 2022
To: 31 May, 2022
Organizer: Pierre Mounier
Speaker: Christine Musselin, Sylvain Piron
Languages: Français / anglais
EPFL, INN 128 / Online