Monday, January 17

Castells, the university eminence who had to learn to be a minister

The most atypical minister of the Government, the one who from the first day criticized the creation of the portfolio of Universities that he himself was going to occupy detached from Science, is leaving. Manuel Castells, a 79-year-old sociologist of international prestige, leaves the ministry. A person of endless energy, he leaves for personal reasons and with his work half done: he leaves the reform of the University law lined up, but without approving. His great challenge, to end the precariousness of a good part of the university teaching staff, who have been punished during these years of crisis, will have to be completed by his successor, who will be Joan Subirats.

Joan Subirats, Ada Colau’s academic

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Castells landed at the Ministry of Universities as part of the share of Unidos Podemos in the Government, specifically at the proposal of the Comuns of Ada Colau. His profile, an independent with great academic background but away from the Spanish university in recent years – he was a professor at the North American Berkeley – was not well received by everyone. But during the two long years that he has been in the ministry, he has won over students and principals, at least in their ways. Not so much the associate professors, those whom he wanted to get out of their precariousness, who were never convinced by the Government’s proposals. The last project that he processed, the reform of the University Coexistence Law, however, distanced him from professors and students, who felt betrayed the agreement they had reached when it was modified in Congress before its final approval.

The former minister was accused during the pandemic of being missing. Initially not a friend of the appearances, he changed his mind due to the criticism received – or they made him change his mind – and seemed to assume that work in politics is useless if it does not communicate and began to show up, give press conferences and more interviews often. Because Castells was working. In half a legislature, he managed to agree with the communities a reduction in university fees, both undergraduate and master’s degrees, which had skyrocketed after the previous crisis, carried out together with the Ministry of Education a reform of scholarships, which were widened, approved a regulation redefining –and tightening– the requirements for a center to be considered a university, it reordered university studies, it is in the process of streamlining the homologations of foreign degrees and, above all, it leaves the reform of the university system approved in the Congress of Ministers, although the Processing has gone awry in recent months.

The minister, who boasted a few weeks ago that he has enough support to pass the law right away, is (ba) trying to square a text that satisfies all parties. For this reason, he had to carry out several assignments, such as the initiative that he had proposed that the rectors could be elected through a committee and not by universal suffrage, among other issues that the university community rejected.

The CV of an Eminence

Castells’s resume is that of an eminence. Until 75 pages that summarize an academic career of half a century, which includes teaching at the University of Berkeley (California) –where he is Emeritus Professor of Sociology– or at the University of Paris, visiting stages at centers such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or the University of Oxford and, currently, the Chair of Sociology at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), which he joined in 2001. In the field of research, and beyond his publications, he has been the founder of the scientific council of European Research Council of the EU.

But his long career, like that of so many Spanish intellectuals of his generation, begins in his stage as a student. An anti-Franco militant, he had to go into exile in the 1960s in France, where he studied with the sociologist Alain Touraine, was a young professor at the University of Paris and lived from within in May 68, with the student leader – now a politician of the Greens – Daniel Cohn-Bendit as a student.

From the French capital he jumped to Berkeley, where he settled for years and developed his studies on urban social movements and, already in the 90s, on the information society and the power of networks and technology. Of his 26 published books, the most recognized is the trilogy The information age: economy, society and culture (1996-1998).

In parallel to a career full of ‘honoris causa’, emeritus chairs and awards around the world – among them, the Creu de Sant Jordi (2006) and the National Prize for Sociology and Political Science (2008) -, Castells gained popularity in Spain with the outbreak of 15-M, which would eventually bring it closer to the orbit of the ‘Comuns’. He was enthusiastic and also a student of this citizen amendment to political and economic power, either through his articles in The vanguard or of subsequent publications, some of them as director of the IN3 institute of the UOC in which the ‘Datanalysis 15M’ team participated. Always interested in the role of networks and the internet within the movement, he came to advise the short-lived X Party.

Moderating the speech

Castells moderated his speech as he spent the months in the ministry. He began his stage as a minister making headlines since the first day he criticized his employer, President Sánchez, for separating the ministries, or when he had no qualms about admitting in his first appearance in Congress that the precariousness of some is “a scandal”. professors at the University. In the last interview he conducted with this newspaper, he seemed more restrained, even giving himself a little time before answering any question and measuring his words more.

In recent weeks the minister was absent from the public sphere. The Ministry has not officially communicated anything about his resignation, related to health reasons. In September of last year he had surgery on his back. In an interview with this newspaper three months ago, he already announced that he would not repeat in office. He has not even had time to complete the legislature.