Friday, September 04, 2015

Inspirational kickoff to the academic year

The rector, Alfonso Sanchez-Tabernero, center, talks with two of the new local provincial officials. UNAV photo
PAMPLONA, Spain -- Some of my colleagues here at the University of Navarra have been anxious  since local elections in May brought in a new crop of populist reformers whose rhetoric sounds radical to them.

They think the university could be a target for the newcomers, given that it is private, Catholic and relatively expensive (though about a fourth as expensive as a comparable university in the U.S.).

So the university's rector, Alfonso Sanchez-Tabernero, showed himself to be an able diplomat when he addressed an audience of close to 1,000 faculty, local officials, and students today with a message that said essentially: We are ready to cooperate with and collaborate with whoever the local officials are. He was telling his staff, in effect, calm down, already. Don't worry. We'll survive.

But he was also sending a collegial message to the new leaders of the province of Navarra, who were with him on the dais. Very astute, I thought. He is in the photo above with Uxue Barkos, new president of the province, and Ainhoa Aznarez, the new president of the provincial parliament. Barkos is the leader of the Basque coaltion. Some of her group would like to see Navarra, a wealthy province that is about 25% Basque, unite with the adjacent Basque Country region. This could have economic, political and cultural implications, such as the languages taught in schools.

Some of my colleagues from the Department of Communication. UNAV photo
The rector also singled out the university's iniciatives to become more innovative, entrepreneurial, and international, including the expansion of its bilingual degree programs. This was good news for me, since I am teaching some of these courses.

Also fortunately for me, the rector used to be the head of the section where I work (Empresa Informativa, or Media Business), so he drops in sometimes on our coffees and barbecues. He is sharp and has a dry wit. His academic writing on the media business is crisp, clear, and insightful. I like the guy.

Pomp and circumstance

Although the university was founded by Opus Dei just 63 years ago, it has adopted some university traditions that go back to the Middle Ages, including the academic garb. (To be fair, so do American land grant universities.)

We started the day with a high mass concelebrated by the provincial bishop and four priests. Most of the mass was in Spanish, but there were bits in Latin and Basque (Euskera).

Just as in the U.S., Catholics here sing half-heartedly. But they dress better for Mass. Suits and ties, dresses. No football jerseys, tank tops, shorts, flip flops, or other signs of casual commitment.

The local paper also noted the rector's remarks in a headline that suggested the University would work hand in hand with the new government. 


20,000-year-old cave art and the north coast of Spain
In Pamplona, they party like it's 1591
Barcelona's art and architecture make it a favorite
Cordoba's main attraction: mix of Jewish, Moorish, Christian cultures  
Basque language has mysterious origins 
Andalusia has different flavor from rest of Spain  
Tapas or pinchos are our favorite foods in Spain  
Pilgrims still come to honor St. James in Santiago de Compostela  
We didn't run into a lot of Americans in Spain

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