Assertions about the irrelevance of universities are part of a broader and growing mistrust of institutions more generally,
one fuelled by our intoxication with the power and charisma of the individual and the cult of celebrity.
Government, business, non-profits are joined with universities as targets of suspicion and criticism.
There are few countervailing voices to remind us how institutions serve and support us. We tend to take what they do for granted.
Your food was safe; your blood test was reliable; your polling place was open; electricity was available when you flipped the switch.
Your flight to Boston took off and landed according to rules and systems and organizations responsible for safe air travel.
Just imagine a week or a month without this "civic infrastructure"
without the institutions that undergird our society and without the commitment to our interdependence that created these structures of commonality in the first place.
Think of the countries in West Africa that lacked the public health systems to contain Ebola and the devastation that resulted.
Contrast that with the network of institutions that so rapidly saved lives and contained spread of the disease when it appeared in the United States.
Think about other elements of our civic infrastructure -- the libraries, the museums, the school committees, the religious organizations
that are as vital to moving us forward as are our roads and railways and bridges.
Institutions embody our present and enduring connections to one other.
They bring our disparate talents and capacities to the pursuit of common purpose.
At the same time, they link us to both what has come before and what will follow.
They are repositories of values -- values that precede, transcend, and outlast the self.
They challenge us to look beyond the immediate, the instantly gratifying, to think about the bigger picture, the longer run, the larger whole.
They remind us that the world is only temporarily ours, that we are stewards entrusted with the past and responsible to the future.
We are larger than ourselves and our selfies.