Joan Subirats (Barcelona, 1951) had been forced to retire from the University this summer, when he left the Department of Culture of the Barcelona City Council. But the working life of this professor of Political Science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, one of the brains of the comuns, has a final chapter. Subirats will replace Manuel Castells at the head of the Ministry of Universities.
Castells, the university eminence who had to learn to be a minister
The new head of the ministry shares with his predecessor a prestigious academic career, but his profile is more political. In addition to having already held management and exit positions on the electoral lists, Subirats is a recognized and involved figure in the world of the commons since the origin of the formation back in 2014.
Political scientist and professor at the UAB specialized in governance of institutions and public policies, Subirats, in addition to one of his ideologues, became a spokesperson for the Guanyem project, the embryo of the current Ada Colau party. Fully trusted by the mayor of Barcelona, he went from theory to practice in 2017, when he was appointed commissioner of culture for the city.
His ascendancy over the formation was reflected first in the electoral tandem that he made with the mayoress in the municipal elections of 2019 and later, once Colau revalidated the command staff, in his promotion to sixth deputy mayor, responsible for the areas of Culture, Education and Science at the Barcelona City Council between 2019 and 2021.
Forced to retire at the age of 70 from the University, last summer he also left his institutional position, but this did not prevent him from continuing to be one of the leading voices of this political space from different media, including elDiario.es.
During his time in the Barcelona consistory, his role as an ideologist stands out, among other projects, of the Barcelona biennial of thought, philosophy, living arts, in the style of the Modena Philosophy Festival (Italy), which the Catalan capital premiered in October 2017 with great public success and which it repeated in 2020 although with a reduced format due to the pandemic.
A voracious reader and a great music lover (he has been going to the Liceu for years), this son of dairy farmers from Raval was already active in his youth in the most progressive circles of Barcelona, first in the Red Flag and then in the PSUC. He came to be locked up in La Modelo for his anti-Franco militancy in the Assemblea de Catalunya.
Most of his professional career has been in academia. He has been a visiting professor at various European and international universities and in 2009 he was the founder and, until a few months ago, director, of the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP) of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He is also the author of numerous books on municipalism, governance, and public policy.
Father of three daughters, his first contact with Ada Colau dates back to the time when the current mayor was the visible face of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH). Subirats’ interest in social movements led him both to be interested in the 15M movement and to meet the one who years later would be his boss in the City Council. Now he faces the challenge of completing the reform initiated by Castells and which stirred up a good part of the university community.
LOSU awaits you in your office
The main challenge that Subirats will find on the table when he disembarks at his office on Paseo de la Castellana will be to finish implementing the Organic Law of the University System (LOSU). His predecessor Castells leaves the job lined up: the first version of the text was approved by the Council of Ministers on August 31.
But the draft has met with opposition from rectors, students and at least a part of the teaching staff to certain aspects. Issues such as the possibility of appointing a committee to elect the rector, with a certain similarity in the process to a labor contract, or the less representativeness in the university management bodies that the students said they felt led Castells away from these groups and ran aground the law. Associate professors, the most precarious of all university teachers, were not satisfied with the proposals of the law to improve their situation, despite the fact that ending their employment situation had been one of the great bets of the already ex-minister.
After the foreseeable and future approval of the LOSU – Castells affirmed that it had the necessary support to carry it out and that if it had not done so, it was in search of more consensus with rectors and students – the next issue for Subirats will be to move forward with the statute of the teaching and research staff (PDI, university professors), perhaps the great must in the management of the retired minister.
Castells tried to carry out this text, but was faced with the frontal opposition of the unions and finally chose to withdraw his proposal to focus on first approving the LOSU and then including the statute in it.