Vol. LXXV (2017) - No. 267 ¿Quo vadis, Universidad? [Quo vadis, University?]

Esteban, F. and Román, B. (2016).

¿Quo vadis, Universidad? [Quo vadis, University?]

Barcelona: Editorial UOC, 258 pp.

From the signing of the Magna Char- ta Universitatum (1988) to the present day, there have been vertiginous changes in the praxis and conception of the university. These changes have continuously been accompanied by works that take a critical position towards them and by works that do nothing but support a model we might agree to define as technical-didactic that has become one of the hegemonic ways of organising universities. This book by Francisco Esteban and Begoña Román proposes other changes that follow what could perhaps be called a third way, one that offers new pathways and recovers other concepts of the university from memory. These are other pathways to continue thinking in depth the project of a university that for those of us who work or study there runs through and traps us.

It is a matter of thinking and presenting this institution in a broad way connected with the overall idea of what it means «to be part of a university» and of what is based on the very idea of the university (from its inception to the present day). This is the sense that Karl Jaspers gave it in The idea of the university, a recently republished work where he suggests that «the university is a community of scholars and students engaged in the task of seeking truth.» A simple and succinct defi (that would surely be questioned by many members of the university community) which is at the heart of the book we are reviewing here.

This book was originally presented as the doctoral thesis of one of the authors (Francisco Esteban) at the faculty of philosophy of the University of Barcelona, and was supervised by the other author (Begoña Román). It is a mature work (it was Esteban’s second doctoral thesis; his first was in pedagogy) that connects and fits perfectly with a broad group of authors and works that over time have meticulously approached the study of the university. The most important of these include Manuel García Morente (El ideal universitario y otros ensayos [The university ideal and other essays]), José Ortega y Gasset (La misión de la Universidad [The mission of the university]), John Henry Newman (Discourses on the scope and nature of university education), Étienne Gilson (El amor a la sabiduría [The love of wisdom]), and the multi-au- thor work La educación personalizada en la Universidad [Personalised education at university]. Most of these books have been republished recently and share the interest Esteban and Román show in the aims and the hidden ethos of the university project. This interest has been accompanied by experiments that with radical clarity call for a liberal education project in the university and that are expressed through the use of great books in the core curriculum (examples such as those of Thomas Aquinas College in the USA or the University of Navarra in Spain). All of this makes Quo vadis, University? a necessary question, for the future, for resistance, for orientation and guidance in bureaucratic situations and in other cases.

This book contains four large chapters that will be considered below. Chapter one tackles the question of memory and the university and acts as a fixing point to show that there has been something continuous in this institution from the Middle Ages to the present day. As the authors state, «The thing that gives its identity to what we understand as the university is not just the word itself. A university, per se, is no more than a corporation of people. However, what makes this corporation a university and not something else, is the fact that this corporation specifically comprises experts and students, people who embody and bring life to a particular activity geared towards a special purpose: intellectual development» (p. 23).

The second chapter focusses on the «Philosophy of university  education», something that is not always present in works that take the university as their subject. Using communitarianism as a working framework, the authors examine contemporary university education. Consequently, they subdivide the chapter into two sections to tackle the intended question in greater detail: a) preliminary considerations on the idea of the university; and b) thinkers who have tackled the topic of the idea of the university in their research (Humboldt, Newman, and Orte- ga y Gasset). In the authors’ words, «the three philosophies of university education display two shared characteristics. The first is that they were established drawing on the genesis and evolution of the first universities of the Middle Ages. The second is their transcendence, as they are still present in the reality of European universities» (p. 131).

The third chapter considers questions relating to communitarian critique and university ethical education. After setting out questions about the idea, aim, and mission of the university in the previous chapter, this section focusses on the communitarian critique. To do this, it re- views questions linked with the identity of the individual and its educational possibilities in the university. Consequently, the authors suggest that «university education is interpellated by the area outlined here. In it, experts and students come together who, as well as playing their corresponding roles, have and display a certain ethical nature» (p. 163). That said, the ethic offers certain resources that are used for serving the ideal of the university.

The last chapter is a good, well-structured, forward-looking pedagogy. This chapter does not easily yield when facing ways of comprehending the university (especially in its most utilitarian and mercantilist extreme). For the authors, «utility has taken the reins of university education» (p. 209). The fact that the student (in the proposal made by the authors of this book) comes to be recognised as an ethical learning subject gives another distinct perspective. Beyond instruction in the form of competences, headings, portfolios, and certifications, there is the idea of education (Bildung) that endeavours to restrict «productive planning» and «profitable programming».

Ultimately, this book is an interesting read for continuing to think about the university and for continuing to exercise the original mandate for which it was created: bringing together experts and students. This union must continue to permit those who inhabit it to move between the deep possibilities of the paideia, the humanitas, and the Bildung in pursuit of a complete liberal education that allows them to develop as rounded individuals.

Jordi Planella