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Alejandro Llano, Director of department of Philosophy, University of Navarra

Rediscovering the lost University

Wed, 12 May 2010 08:38:38 +0000 Published in La Gaceta (Madrid)

As if it had no better occupation, the most famous Spanish University -my alma mater- has lent itself to host protests and support based on baseless resentment and a claim without goal. A few days later, 40 hooligans, disguised as anti-system, burst into a picturesque meeting of juvenile centers and blind the attendees with tear gas. Meanwhile, dozens of students camp out in the university halls and clamor, no longer for ideals in which almost nobody believes, but for prices and facilities.

How is it possible to rediscover the soul of a dormant university? Where does the spirit that will be the leaven of its rebirth beat? What is the rest of the academic spirit that will pick up a relay abandoned along the way, and which it is urgent to take hold of again in order to discover a new inspiration?

It is easy to say where the remedy is not to be found. Renewal will not come from politicians, whatever their color. Rarely in these parts have public administrators had any idea of what the vital principle of the University is. And today, less than ever, with a government that does not believe in the value of thought or freedom, and that stirs up and confuses everything when it says it is changing it. The only thing they can think of, time and time again, is to make a new law from which hang bunches of rambling regulations. And once composed, transform it as quickly as possible. As sample, in two years they have already proposed three different models of university doctorates, without even having time to test them.

Not to mention the business prescriptions coming from executives, bankers, foundations and alleged international experts. With the hallmark of pragmatism, we are told that careers have to respond to the demands of employers, just when there is no employment and we need more than ever to innovate the approach of economic activity. It is high time that we realize that functionalism does not work.

If we are moving towards the knowledge society, it will be convenient that those who provide the new orientations are the university students who still believe in the value of knowledge. What our institutions of higher education programs of study lack is life and initiative. What is left over in almost all of them is shameful opportunism, docility to political power, and submission to burdensome regulations from which nothing good has ever come result .

In my decades of experience professor, which are now more than four, I do not remember any reform that has implied a change for the better. Always the same fiction: the renewal of the higher teaching and of the innovative research should arise from more complex Structures , from procedures that are only apparently new, from the use of other instruments that have not been tested so far. As if artificial configurations and ungainly means were capable of arousing or transmitting humanism and science. Which they are not.

The numbness of reason that we suffer from leads to a capital error: proceduralism, the undervaluing of knowledge, and the depreciation of the figure of the professor. The issue of academic centers is multiplying, with the result of a growing endogamy: the main criterion for choosing a university is, more and more, the proximity to the family home. Local politicians cover themselves with glory by building university campuses unmatched by any European campus . But what is inside such beautiful and luxurious containers?

Those who inhabit these brand-new buildings are people. Students, managers, researchers, professors, who, after all, are the ones who can give life to organizations that, otherwise, run the risk of reifying themselves and leading a gregarious and self-satisfied existence. Fatalism masks idleness. Creative freedom, on the other hand, always finds a way out of apparently closed situations. Spain currently possesses an extraordinarily talented human potential. This is, at present, our best, if not the only, source of hope. The prolegomena of hope come from intelligence and the capacity to assume risks.

For such a magnificent resource -now intact- to become an effective action, it is essential to enter into dialogue processes without prejudices, breaking the monotonous profile of a situation in which our country seems to be divided in two by gala. Such tension -with its scenic dramatism- is superficial and, in the end, inane. There is much more that unites us than separates us. Cultured and concerted freedoms can emerge as a power superior to that of ideologues, administrators and interest groups. But this undoubted creative force must be applied, first of all, to our most urgent task: to find again the lost University.