Presentation from the rector
To orient oneself again
In his essay What Does it Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking, Kant has to resort to the metaphor of the cardinal points to try to explain that, despite their universality, the principles of thinking are essential subjective principles. “... and if someone as a joke had moved all the objects around so that what was previously on the right was now on the left, I would be quite unable to find anything in a room whose walls were otherwise wholly identical. But I can soon orient myself through the mere feeling of a difference between my two sides, my right and my left”.
If Kant, a systematic philosopher like few others, stressed the intrinsically subjective element of all orientation, the same must at least be recognized by the almost accidental designer of a strategic plan for a university. Because a strategic plan has to do with “finding one’s bearings”. The position of the stars marks the quadrants of the horizon, but some kind of subjective feeling is essential for orienting oneself, just to know where one is.
The point of the feeling that allows us to orient ourselves is something closely tied to the most profound aspects of Kantian thought: subjectivity is not only not opposed to universal validity, but rather the most basic condition for its possibility. We might not agree on what a strategic plan is all about, but we can try to see if we each share a set of principles that can form the basis for orienting Pompeu Fabra University, in the same way that we all know which is our right side and which is our left, even if it brings us back to a purely subjective feeling.
Before attempting to address what I think a strategic plan for this university should consist in, I must say that the plan I present here is the result of a process that responds to the previously mentioned structure. It is the result of recognizing, on the part of a great number of people and groups – some, happily, from outside of the UPF community – the desirability and necessity for some common ideas from each and every one of them. On behalf of myself and our university I would like to wholeheartedly thank the delegate for the Strategic Plan, working groups, presidents of commissions and its members, internal and outside volunteers, debate participants, fellow members of the Governing Board, editors and proof-readers, for this document.
A Strategic Plan?
I have often wondered over these last few months of 2015 why we call this document a “strategic plan”. I have tried to explain it at several board meetings while at the same time trying to explain it to myself. I admit that I have not had much success in either case. Let us just say that this is what this type of document is typically called. However, for someone trying to read it and seeing the word “strategic” in the title, the plan may seem lacking in imperatives and specificity in the orders that a field marshal (the strategist, in the historic sense of the word) should issue to his army and people. It also may not seem very bold compared to some of the interesting, bold actions that we have had to undertake over the years. A final clarification thus is needed on this point: a “strategic plan” is neither a plan nor a strategic position; it is a dramatic landscape sketched in space and time, a setting to orient oneself.
This plan is entirely the initiative of the University’s Governing Board. That said, the Board decided it would be a participatory plan, acceptable to all players, both internal ones as well as those from outside who were kind enough to join us. This landscape offers the background for specific programmes and has to be very expressive, not least in order to evaluate these programmes henceforth. It is not though a set of actions but rather an orientation, a present and future space that will guide its effectiveness.
This dramatic landscape seems highly expressive to me and, as the highest representative of the University, I am very pleased with it.
Allow me now, after the acknowledgements and the attempt of defining the object of a strategic plan, to refer to some of the specific aspects of the University’s portrait that I see through the soi-disant strategic plan. This document is not only to be shared amongst ourselves but also with all those who do not know us or do not know us well enough. Since it must circulate within as well as venture without, I should make clear that while some features are rather popular, others are clearly not. Hopefully, the resoluteness that I am trying to establish at the inception of this plan will lose its meaning over the next 10 years of its lifetime.
Where we are coming from
The portrait shows a research-intensive university. This is the choice that will allow Pompeu Fabra University to develop its own particular character in the European context and a singular one in the local system. Our choices are based on the current situation and there is little doubt that the principal observers see us as a university that is increasingly fulfilling this profile. It is also undisputed that this university was founded with the goal of supporting high quality teaching and that, during its 25 years, both its undergraduate and postgraduate studies have been recognized as prestigious. This ingredient is included in the plan by establishing logical channels of communication between research quality and teaching faculty quality, on the one hand, and demonstrating the need for developing new projects visible from the outside world: a buzzing hive of ideas.
There are no great secrets as to how to create a research university that also seeks to assume a leading social role in education: recruit talented people, both teachers and students – the more unique and valuable, the better. Some simple rules, institutional freedom and good habits would make everything easier if it were not the case that, right now, there remains a lack of clear commitment in our environment. Those of us in charge of local universities work on a daily basis in a system based on paternalism and the distrust embodied in an oppressive legislation that leaves no room for accountability. This is not the place to comment on how our colleagues experience this administrative model. We suffer under it, because we see scenarios, to which we cast ourselves, that we could explore more efficiently, but only through efforts that needlessly sap energy that should instead be used for improvement. Sometimes, advancing a kilometer takes an entire day of circuitous travel.
For years governments have observed and understood us, but they still have not decided to place universities at the top of the political agenda. As a result, the readers of this plan will find indications of a resolute approach and also symptoms of a Hispanic university environment that has not taken expected decisions and threatens the sustainability of quality universities.
Although we have partner universities in the rest of Spain and the government in Madrid has recognized and sporadically supported the UPF project, the Catalan university environment is not the same as the Spanish one. During the last several years, the Catalan and Barcelona city administrations have understood us and helped us get through the end of a period in the history of higher education that is better left behind.
There have been flashes of vision both in Madrid and Barcelona, from civil society organizations and from institutions and businesses. Ours is a public service university that is committed to providing this service to the best of its ability.
At the same time, it is by no means a university that is unaware of the existence of the private sector and the possibilities of cross-fertilization with different sectors. The flashes of vision are rare but they are there. Some of us believe that the opportunity of universities and knowledge is the clearest way for a country like Catalonia to provide a permanent turnaround to its economy and the welfare of its citizens.
Ideally, our more immediate society would awaken from the dogmatic slumber, to use another Kantian expression, that believing in the university as a general right, rather than a great chance for individual and collective improvement, amounts to. I would like to invite the people who enroll in the university to do so, first of all, because they want to come to Pompeu Fabra University; not because they are exercising a right, but because it is good for them, because it is the right decision. The dream of exercising a right all too often leads us to treat universities as if they were hospitals or primary schools, which are part and parcel of our basic rights as citizens. Clearly, universities are a right and are a means of guaranteeing certain basic rights. But they are more than this. We are an institution committed to the creation and diffusion of so-called “humanistic” culture and scientific knowledge. In some ways, a university is more like a temple than a hospital. It goes without saying that hospitals are important, but let us not forget that knowledge is also marked by an essential ingredient of universality and solidarity. From the university sprout paths for improving everything, even the misfortunes wrought by darkest side of mankind.
UPF’s environment is the world. This plan contains two causative, irreversible changes: 1) From visiting the world strapped to our seats, at home, to visiting the world with our straps forever undone; and 2) the extraordinary move to the experience of a university community committed to providing an example of universal hospitality and social responsibility for the heritage in its trust. Both changes have the virtue of being simultaneously working methods and ingredients contained in this document, which I offer in good faith to the reader.
Barcelona, 15 December 2015