Saturday, May 14, 2016

Time Changes: Bologna 1316 and MIT 2016

Seven hundred years and one expects a change, of some type. As MIT announces:

MIT is honored to welcome actor, filmmaker, co-founder of, and native Cantabrigian Matt Damon as the guest speaker for the 2016 Commencement Exercises. 

 Yes it is a movie actor whose role as a South Boston vagabond who managed to show that without any education he could out smart any MIT Math post doc.

Then in 1316 at Bologna we have this description (from a Ciba Symposium document in 1945[1]): 

The graduation ceremony at Bologna was presided over by the Archdeacon. Graduation consisted of two parts, the private examination and the public examination called conventus, or conventactio. The private examination was the real test of competence, the so-called public examination being, in practice, a mere ceremony. The candidate who had passed the private examination and was admitted to the public one, was called a licentiate. Generally, the licentiate proceeded to the ceremony which made him a full doctor after a very short interval. On the day of the public examination, the love of pageantry characteristic of the medieval, and especially of the Italian mind was allowed ample gratification. Before the appointed day, the candidate, preceded by the beadles of the Archdeacon, rode around the city inviting public officials or private friends to the ceremony or to the ensuing banquet. On the day of the conventus the candidate was accompanied to the cathedral by the presenting doctors and by fellow students lodging in the same house with him. The idea of the ceremony was essentially the same as that of the “commencement” of American universities. It derived from the principle of Roman law according to which a man was invested with office by a solemn performance of its functions. 

By this act a new doctor was recognized by his colleagues, and received among the doctors, he., into the teaching guild or brotherhood. Arriving at the cathedral, the licentiate delivered a speech and read a thesis which he defended against opponents who were selected from among the students. He was then presented by his sponsor or promoter to the Archdeacon who delivered a complimentary oration and concluded by solemnly conferring the degree of doctor by the authority of the Pope and in the name of the Holy Trinity.” A gold ring was placed upon his finger, either in token of his espousal to science or as a symbol of the doctor s claim to equality with knights, the magisterial cap was placed upon his head, and the sponsor left him with a paternal embrace, the kiss of peace, and a benediction. The ceremony concluded, all present were required to escort him in triumph through the town, surrounded by a mounted cavalcade of personal friends and wealthier students and preceded by three university pipers and four university trumpeters. It appears that in the case of poorer students these expensive ceremonies were dispensed with. 

Proof of the great importance attached to the graduation is the fact that Charles V granted to the college the right of conferring knighthood upon doctors; and that the doctors of the college were themselves knights and counts of the Lateran.   One of the most interesting differences between the University of Bologna and the other universities lies in the relationship between the various faculties. In Paris and in other European universities, the doctors and students of all faculties were united in a single body. In ancient Bologna there was no connection between the faculty of law and that of the arts, i.e., liberal arts and medicine, other than that the students of both received their degrees from the same chancellor, the Archdeacon of Bologna. The organization of law students attained a high development earlier than that of the students of medicine.

At that time the focus was on the new Doctor, and recognized now as a Knight, pari passu with the equivalent in society. The work of the student now a Doctor was the focus on the event.

It appears that we now "Hood" the new Doctors off stage and bring to the fore the characters who portray what the new Doctors were incapable of doing. Things have changed in 700 years, perhaps not really for the better. Are we honoring the right people?