The University at the Service of Contemporary Society
Mgr Escrivá, we would like to hear your opinion on the essential purpose of a university. In what sense do you feel that the teaching of religion is a part of university studies?
As university students you undoubtedly realise that a university must play a primary role in contributing to human progress. Since the problems facing mankind are multiple and complex (spiritual, cultural, social, financial etc.) university education must cover all these aspects.
A desire to work for the common good is not enough. The way to make this desire effective is to form competent men and women who can transmit to others the maturity which they themselves have achieved.
Religion is the greatest rebellion of men who do not want to live as beasts, who are not satisfied and will not rest until they reach and come to know their Creator. Thus, the study of religion is a fundamental need. A man who lacks religious formation is a man whose education is incomplete. That is why religion should be present in the universities, where it should be taught at the high, scholarly level of good theology. A university from which religion is absent is an incomplete university, it neglects a fundamental facet of human personality, which does not exclude but rather presupposes the other facets.
On the other hand, no one may violate the freedom of students' consciences. Religion has to be studied voluntarily, even though Christians know that, if they want to live their Faith well, they have a grave obligation to receive a sound religious training. A Christian needs doctrine so as to be able to live by it and to give witness of Christ with example and word.
These days one of the most debated questions is that of democratising education to make it accessible to all social classes. No one today can imagine an institution of higher education which does not have a social impact or function. How do you understand this process and how can the universities fulfil their social function?
A university must educate its students to have a sense of service to society, promoting the common good with their professional work and their activity. University people should be responsible citizens with a healthy concern for the problems of other people and a generous spirit which brings them to face these problems and to resolve them in the best possible way. It is the task of universities to foster these attitudes in their students.
Everyone who has sufficient ability should have access to higher education, no matter what his social background, economic means, race, or religion. As long as there remain barriers in these areas, democratic education will be little more than an empty phrase.
In a word, the universities should be open to all and should educate their students so that their future professional work may be of service to all.
Many students feel personally involved in world problems and thus want to take an active part in assisting the many people who suffer physically or morally or who are living in poverty. What social ideals would you suggest to university students of our day?
The ideal I would propose is, above all, one of work well done and of adequate intellectual preparation during their college years. Given this basis, there are thousands of places in the world which need a helping hand, which await someone who is willing to work personally with effort and sacrifice. A university should not form men who will egoistically consume the benefits they have achieved through their studies. Rather it should prepare students for a life of generous help of their neighbour, of Christian charity.
Frequently students' concern for social problem is limited to oral or written demonstrations, and at times it degenerates into useless or harmful outbursts. I myself measure the sincerity of concern for others in terms of works of service, and I know of thousands of cases of students in many countries who have refused to build their own little private worlds. They are giving themselves to others through their professional work, which they try to carry out with human perfection, through educational endeavours, through social and welfare activities, in a spirit of youth and cheerfulness.
In the context of the present socio-political situation in our country and in others, or of war, injustice, or oppression, what responsibility do you attribute to the university as a corporate body, and to professors and students? Should a university permit students and professors to carry on political activities within its precincts?
First of all, I would like to say that in this conversation I am expressing opinions of my own. Since I was sixteen — and I am now sixty-five — I have never lost contact with the university, but I am expressing my own personal way of seeing this matter, and not the point of view of Opus Dei. In temporal and debatable matters Opus Dei does not wish to have and cannot have any opinion, since its goals are exclusively spiritual. In all matters of free discussion, each member of the Work has and freely expresses his own personal opinion, for which he is also personally responsible.
In reply to your question, I think we would in the first place have to come to an agreement about what we mean by 'politics'. If by 'politics' we mean being interested in and working for peace, social justice, the freedom of all men, then in that case everyone in the university as a corporate body is obliged to respect those ideals and to foster a concern for resolving the great problems of human life.
But if, on the contrary, we understand by 'politics' a particular solution to a specific problem, in competition with those who stand for other possible and legitimate solutions, then I think that the university is not the place where politics should be decided.
College years are a period of preparation for finding solutions to these problems. Everyone should be welcome in the university. It should be a place of study and friendship, a place where people who hold different opinions which, in each period, are expressions of the legitimate pluralism which exists in society — may live together in peace.
Supposing that the political circumstances of a country reached such a point that a lecturer or a student thought in conscience that there was no other licit means of preserving the country from general harm, would he be justified in bringing politics into the university in legitimate use of his freedom?
In a country in which there was absolutely no political freedom, universities might lose their proper nature, thus ceasing to be the home of all and becoming a battle field of opposing factions.
Nevertheless, I still think it would be preferable to spend one's college years acquiring a sound training and a social conscience, so that those who govern later on (those who today are studying) will not fall into the same aversion to personal freedom, which is something really pathological. If the universities are turned into a debating hall for the solution of specific political problems, academic serenity will easily be lost and students will develop a partisan outlook. Thus the universities and the country would always suffer from the chronic illness of totalitarianism, of one kind or another.
Let it be clear that, when I say universities are not the place for politics, I do not exclude, but rather desire, a normal channel of opinion for all citizens. Although my opinion in this matter is very definite, I do not wish to add any more because my mission is not political but priestly. What I say to you is something which I have a right to speak about because I consider myself a university man: I have a passionate interest in everything which refers to university life. I do not act in politics. I do not wish to, and I cannot. But my outlook as a jurist and theologian, and my Christian Faith, lead me always to stand up for the legitimate freedom of all men.
No one has a right to impose non-existent dogmas in temporal matters. Given a concrete problem, whatever it may be, the solution is to study it well and then to act conscientiously, with personal freedom and with personal responsibility as well.
What, in your opinion, is the role of student associations and unions? What should be the nature of their relations with the academic authorities?
You are asking my opinion on a very broad question. Therefore I am not going to go into details, and will only deal with a few general points. I think student associations should intervene in matters which refer specifically to the university. There should be some representatives, freely elected by their fellow students, who are in contact with the academic authorities and who realise that they must work together in a common task. Here they have another opportunity to perform a real service.
You need a statute in order to carry out this common task in a reasonable way, with justice and with efficiency. Matters for discussion must be carefully studied and thought out. If the suggested solutions are properly studied and have been formed in a constructive spirit, and not with a desire to create divisions, they acquire authority and come to be accepted on their own merits.
To achieve this, the representatives of student associations need a sound education. First of all they should respect and cherish the freedom of others, and then their own freedom, with its corresponding responsibilities. Moreover, they should not desire personal publicity nor seek powers to which they have no right. Rather, they should seek the good of the university, which is the good of their fellow students. And, finally, the electors should choose their representatives for these qualities and not for reasons which are foreign to the efficacy of their university. Only thus will the university be a home of serene and noble scholarship, which will further the study and formation of all.
Who do you think should have the right to found centres of higher education and under what circumstances? What powers should the State reserve for itself in higher education? Do you consider autonomy a basic principle for the organisation of university education? Could you indicate the broad lines along which an autonomous system should be based?
The right to found educational centres is only one aspect of freedom in general. I consider personal freedom necessary for everyone and in everything that is morally lawful. Hence, every person or association in a position to do so should have the possibility of founding centres of education under equal conditions and without unnecessary obstacles.
The function of the State depends upon the social situation and this will differ from Germany to England, from Japan to the United States, to mention countries with very different educational systems. The State has clear duties in terms of encouragement, control and supervision of education. And this demands equality of opportunity for both private and State undertakings. To supervise is neither to obstruct, nor to impede or restrict freedom.
That is why I consider autonomy in teaching necessary: autonomy is another way of saying academic freedom. The university, as a corporate whole, must have the independence of an organ in a living body. That is, it must have freedom within its specific task of service to the common good. Some of the signs of an effective autonomy could be these: the freedom to select its professors and administrative staff; the freedom to establish its curricula; scope for building up and administering its own endowment: in a word, all the necessary conditions for a university to be able to lead its own life, as a service to society as a whole.
An ever-increasing weight of criticism is being levelled by student opinion against lifelong appointments to university posts Do you think this current of opinion is correct?
Yes. Although I recognise the high academic and personal standards of the teaching body in this country, I prefer the free contract system. I think that this system does no financial harm to the member of staff and that it is an incentive for him never to give up research or progress in his speciality. Also, it prevents people from understanding university appointments as fiefs, rather than as positions of service.
I realise that the system of permanent university appointments may give good results in some countries, and that within this system you can find very competent men who turn their appointments into a very real service to the university. But I consider that the free contract system makes those cases more frequent and helps to stimulate all professors to dedicate all their energies to the service of the university.
Don't you think that after Vatican II the concepts of 'Church schools', 'catholic schools', 'Church universities' etc. have become outdated? Don't you think that such titles involve the Church unduly and sound like privileges?
No, I don't think so, if by Church schools, Catholic schools, etc. we understand the results of the rights which the Church and the religious orders and congregations have to create centres of education. To set up a school or a university is not a privilege but a burden, that is, if you try to make it a centre for everyone and not only for people with means.
The Council did not intend to declare that confessional centres of teaching were outdated. It simply wanted to make clear that there is another way (which is also more necessary and universal, and which has been lived for many years by the members of Opus Dei), for Christians to be present in the field of education: the free initiative of Catholic citizens who are teachers by profession and who work both in State schools and private centres. This is one more sign of the Church's awareness, at the present time, of the fruitfulness of the apostolate of the laity.
On the other hand, I must confess that I do not like the expressions 'Catholic schools', 'Church schools', etc. even though I respect those who think differently. I prefer to see things distinguished by their results and not by their names. A school is truly Christian when it strives for excellence, and gives a complete education — which includes Christian ideals — at the same time respecting personal freedom and earnestly furthering social justice. If this is accomplished, then the name is of little importance. Personally, I repeat, I prefer to avoid those adjectives.
We would like you, as the Chancellor of the University of Navarra, to outline the principles which moved you to found it, and explain its significance today in relation to higher education in Spain.
The University of Navarra was founded in 1952 — after many years of prayer, I am happy to say — with the idea of being a university which would express the cultural and apostolic ideals of a group of professors who felt deeply about education. It aimed then, as it does today, to contribute side by side with the other universities to solve a serious educational problem in Spain and in many other countries, which needs people who are well-trained in order to build a more just society.
Those who began it were no strangers to the Spanish university scene. They were professors who has been educated and had taught at Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Santiago, Granada and many other universities. This close cooperation, which I venture to say was closer even than that between neighbouring State universities, still continues. There are frequent interchanges and visits by professors, and national congresses where work is carried out in harmony, etc. The same contact has been maintained with the best universities in other countries. The present conferring of honorary degrees on professors of the Sorbonne, of Harvard, Coimbra, Munich and Louvain is an expression of this close contact.
The University of Navarra has stimulated the contributions to higher education of many people who consider that university studies, open to all who deserve to study, regardless of their financial resources, are basic to progress. The Association of Friends of the University of Navarra, with its generous help, has distributed a considerable number of scholarships and grants. This number will continue to increase, as will the number of Afro-Asian and Latin-American students.
It has been said that the University of Navarra is a university for people with means and that nevertheless it receives considerable support from the State. We know the first part is not true because we know our fellow students, but what about the State subsidies?
The facts have been made available to the public through the press. They show that, while its fees are approximately the same as those of other universities, the University of Navarra gives financial aid to more students than does any other university in the country. And I can assure you that the number of scholarships will be increased further. We aim to reach a percentage of scholarship holders as high, if not higher, than that registered by the non-Spanish universities which are most outstanding in their efforts to help students.
I can understand that Navarra attracts attention because it functions very efficiently and this makes people speculate about the existence of massive financial resources. But they forget, when they reason that way, that material resources are not sufficient in themselves to make an institution prosper. The vitality of this university is due principally to the sense of service, to the enthusiasm and to the effort which teaching staff, students, employees and the admirable women of Navarra who do the cleaning, have put into it. If it were not for their efforts, the university would not have been able to keep going.
Financially the university is supported by subsidies. In the first instance, that of the Provincial Council of Navarra, which is for operating expenses. One must also mention the grant of land for the university buildings made by the Pamplona City Council following a common practice of city councils in many countries. You know from experience the cultural and economic advantages which a region like Navarra and, in particular, the city of Pamplona derive from a modern university which opens to all the possibility of receiving good higher education.
You ask about State subsidies. The Spanish government gives no help for the operating expenses of the University of Navarra. It has granted some subsidies for the buildings necessary to accommodate larger numbers of students, which alleviate the great financial effort which the university has to make to set up these new facilities.
Other sources of income (for the School of Industrial Engineering) are the Corporations in Guipuzcoa and particularly the Provincial Bank of Guipuzcoa.
From the start the help given by Spanish and foreign foundations, both public and private, has played an important role. For example, a large official grant from the United States for scientific equipment for the School of Industrial Engineering; the contribution from the German Foundation Misereor towards the new buildings; the help from the Huarte Foundation for cancer research; grants from the Gulbenkian Foundation etc.
Then there is the help for which we are, if it were possible, even more grateful: that of the thousands of people in Spain and abroad, of all social classes, who are cooperating in so far as they can to maintain the university, even though many of them have very limited financial means.
Finally one must not forget those companies whose interest leads them to cooperate in the research carried out by the university or to help in some other way.
You might imagine that with all this there is money to spare. Well, it isn't so. The University of Navarra still operates at a deficit. I would like still more people and more foundations to help so that this work of service and social welfare can continue and expand.
As the Founder of Opus Dei and the force behind a wide range of university-level educational centres all over the world, could you tell us both why Opus Dei has started these centres and what are the principal features of its contribution to this level of teaching?
The aim of Opus Dei is that many people all over the world may come to know both in theory and in practice that it is possible to sanctify their ordinary tasks, their daily work; that it is possible to seek Christian perfection in the middle of the world without having to give up the work in which our Lord decided to call us. Thus, the most important apostolate of Opus Dei is that which each member carries out individually, through his professional work done with the greatest human perfection possible — despite my personal shortcomings and those which each individual may have — in all environments and in all countries: for among the members of Opus Dei there are people of some seventy countries of all races and social conditions.
Besides, Opus Dei as a corporation, with the help of very many people who do not belong to the Work and who often are not Christian, fosters corporate activities through which it seeks to contribute towards solving the many problems which face the world today: educational institutions, welfare centres, schools for professional development and advancement. etc.
The university-level institutions of which you speak are another aspect of this task. Their principal features can be enumerated as follows: to train people in personal freedom and in personal responsibility. With freedom and responsibility, people work enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, and there is no need for controls or supervision. Everyone feels at home and therefore all you need is a simple schedule. Another characteristic is the spirit of living together in harmony without discrimination of any kind. Here, in this living together, personality takes shape. Each individual learns that, in order to be able to demand respect for his own freedom, he must respect the freedom of others.
Finally, there is the spirit of human brotherhood. Each person's individual talents have to be placed at the service of others: if not, they are of little use. The corporate works which Opus Dei conducts throughout the world are always at the service of everyone, because they are a Christian service.
In May, when you were with the students of the University of Navarra, you promised a book about student and university matters. Could you tell us whether it will be long in coming?
Allow an old man over sixty this little vanity. I trust that the book will be published and that it will help teachers and students. At least I will put into it all the love which I have never lost since I first set foot in the university, so many years ago!
It may take a little while yet, but it will come. On another occasion I promised the students of Navarra a statue of the Virgin Mary to put on the campus where She could bless the pure, healthy love of your youth. The statue was some time in coming, but it arrived at last: 'Holy Mary, Mother of Fair Love', blessed for you specially by the Pope.
As for the book, by the way, you should not expect it to please everyone. I will state my own opinions, which I trust will be respected by those who think the opposite, as I respect all opinions which differ from mine, and as I respect those who have a large and generous heart even though they do not share with me the Christian Faith. Let me tell you something that has happened to me often. The last occasion was here in Pamplona. A student came up to me. He wanted to greet me, 'Monsignor, I'm not a Christian' he said, 'I'm a Mohammedan.'
'You are a son of God, as I am,' I answered him. And I embraced him with all my heart.
Finally, could you say something to those of us who work in university journalism?
Journalism is a great thing, and so is university journalism. You can contribute a good deal to promote among your fellow students love for noble ideals, and a desire to overcome personal egoisms. You can foster an awareness of social problems, you can encourage fraternity. And, let me especially invite you to love the truth.
I cannot hide from you that I am disgusted by the sensationalism of some journalists who write half truths. To inform the public is not to steer a middle course between truth and falsehood. That is not objective information, nor is it moral. People who mix in, together with a few half truths, a considerable number of errors and even premeditated slanders are unworthy of the name of journalists. They cannot be called journalists because they are only the more or less well greased tools of any organisation for propagating falsehood which knows that lies once put into circulation will be repeated ad nauseam, without bad faith, through the ignorance and credulity of many people. I must confess that, as tar as I am concerned, false journalists come out winners, because not a day passes in which I do not pray earnestly for them, asking our Lord to enlighten their consciences.
I ask you, then, to spread the love of good journalism, journalism which is not satisfied with unfounded rumour, with the invention of some overheated imagination which is passed on to the public as 'People say that…' Report with facts, with results, without judging intentions, upholding the legitimate diversity of opinions in a calm way, without resorting to personal attacks. It is difficult for people really to live together harmoniously when there is no real information. And real information does not fear the truth and does not allow itself to be led away by motives of intrigue, false prestige or economic advantage.