The rector of the Cattolica: “Let universities teach young people to develop free ideas”. The challenges of an institution that turns 100 years old. And look to tomorrow
«To be creative and that is to say original, this is what the kids ask of us, this is our goal: to prepare students capable of elaborating critical and therefore free thinking. Cultured, therefore immune to stereotypes ». How to do it, with pandemic and digital revolution pressing, a centenary to be celebrated and partly already celebrated, difficulties and unknowns such as distance lessons and green passes, explains Franco Anelli, rector of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, five locations, 40 thousand students, twelve faculties. “Eventually the circumstances made the anniversary become an urgency: planning a new academic future.”
The solid grace of the Bramante cloisters, the austere splendor of the rectorate. Milan, the Catholic University was born on 7 December 1921, from an idea of Father Agostino Gemelli and a group of intellectuals convinced of the need to bring Catholics back into the country’s cultural debate. Professor, ruined centenary?
“But no. Especially since the academic year was inaugurated with the presence – live video – of the President Sergio Mattarella who opened the celebrations. However, the pandemic has shown us that the system has an exceptional response capacity; and that we need to imagine the next few years by introducing elements of diversity with respect to the past ».
«Certain technological tools – without being conditioned by them – will be placed in the realization of the didactic activity. We will have to understand not so much how to use technology but how, in the face of these innovations, to build training courses differently, a theme on which we must all reflect. The physical dimension of universities will also change ».
“If we say that the university is a place for discussion and dialogue where people meet, there must be spaces that are functional for activities that are not just lectures and talks. But most of all it will be necessary to understand what to teach ».
What, and how?
«We need a new interpretation of reality. The twentieth century is over now, that model leaves room for a society founded on digital, on the production of new objects of exchange, on new decision-making and consensus-forming processes, on a new access to political offices. Many realities must be understood. New skills must be built ».
So some study paths still make sense?
«Without prejudice to the fact that universities are created to be places of teaching, not just research centers, and that students pay their tuition not because the professors study but because they teach them, universities are places for the” elaboration “of knowledge. They are spaces of creativity and this means taking a step further than the innovation mantra. We live in a fluid world: changing reality changes what you need to know. From here it is necessary to identify new paths, but without pursuing the knowledge of detail, that of fashion in a certain, often short, moment, because we know that sensational mistakes are made on this. We need to understand how to combine the training offer to give more original preparations and adapt the content of the courses. Here is the mission ».
Keep up to date with the times?
«To undertake to train minds capable of thinking, of being in turn original and creative. The university does not serve to dismiss people with their heads full of notions but who find it difficult to elaborate them, I am referring to independence of thought, the ability to criticize and originality which is what is most needed. We have a desperate need for knowledge and culture, to affirm their value not only operational or professional, but social and political ».
Why do you think?
«In recent years, the elements of accreditation of skills have been put in crisis. This has blown away all social ties, let us think of the a priori questioning of the work of doctors, or professors. But to recognize the skills of others the premise is to have their own. A society that denies skills is unable to face real difficulties. And there is nothing worse than a social system made up of uneducated people, because they are prey to anyone and anything. And it is a real danger, with respect to which the task of those who have to educate is to transmit information, notions, but above all the tools for that personal construction of their own intellectual depth that allows them to be capable of deep and independent thought. This creativity arises from the ability to critically evaluate what exists. So if we think about what the university must do, here, I believe that it must recover an ideational capacity in training, have originality in proposing programs, paths, teaching techniques, research methods. Creativity and a critical sense make it possible not to be a victim of stereotypes, but to master knowledge and be able to make it an instrument of one’s thinking ».
How are the Christian values of the Catholic University inserted in these reflections?
There are two aspects. One is the typical attention of the Christian approach to the person, and therefore the idea of the unrepeatability of the individual, which however is thought of within a community. And this is an element that our graduates recognize: knowing how to work as a team. Another theme: the ability to think about a transcendent dimension is already in itself a constant solicitation to look up “.
Milan, Rome, the other offices. What is the role of the university for cities and vice versa?
«It is a continuous and fundamental exchange, it would not be the same if it were all telematic. We Italians, then, do not have the tradition of the campus intended as a self-sufficient reality separated from the territory, which could be anywhere and always remain the same. Our universities have deep roots in the urban fabric ».
What will happen on December 7, the exact day of the centenary?
“There won’t be an event on that precise date, the city already has a lot to do that day (Sant’Ambrogio, the delivery of the Ambrogini d’oro, the Prima della Scala). But for that period we are thinking of a solemn inauguration of the academic year with a European guest, another theme on which we insist: we cannot give up the European dimension of our culture ».
Where are the registrations? Same pre-pandemic level?
«They are fine, indeed, last year they grew up. There were no jolts ».
«Today the saturation rate of the classrooms is 50 per cent, as in previous months. Then of course, the question was asked at the various tables, and that is whether with the green pass I can let in one hundred percent of the students. But how do I make sure they have it? It is a bit complex, we will try to equip ourselves. The important thing is to have clear and equal rules for everyone ».
Hope for next year?
“Perhaps we can stop navigating on sight, adapting to the inevitable change in health rules … And be able to resume the project we had thought of for the centenary, a collective effort to imagine what kind of identity to give to a university that in these hundred years it has experienced the transformations of the country: the Concordat, the war, the Reconstruction, the protest, the changes in the organization of the family. La Cattolica accompanied these metamorphoses trying to maintain its character and without being a place of conservation. In this sense, it would be nice to recover that work that had just been sketched out and then interrupted: to put together the various souls of the Cattolica to think about what to do in the coming years. But we still have time ».
August 1, 2021 (change August 1, 2021 | 21:25)
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