Appreciating Pompeu Fabra (the ‘Universitat’ and the man)

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by Matthew Hoelle and Stéphanie Novak, Max Weber Fellows 2010-2011

In the first week of April, with six of our colleagues in the Max Weber Programme, we traded the weather, food, and sites of Florence for the weather, food, and sites of Barcelona as part of a teaching exchange hosted by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF). Our home for the week was a series of studio apartments conveniently located equidistant between the beach and the university. This setting offered us unique opportunities, both academic and cultural.

Each Fellow was assigned a mentor from the faculty at UPF. As the Fellows’ research interests vary considerably, the range of mentors was also notable, including faculty members in Economics, Political Science, Literature, Law, and Technology and Communication. The Fellows, with advice from their mentors, each put together a lecture for undergraduate students at UPF. One of the hallmarks of UPF is the diversity of the student body and although each of us possessed prior teaching experience, this particular opportunity was certainly unique and rewarding. Additionally, as a boon to our research projects, our mentors carefully reviewed our research topics and arranged meetings with faculty members with similar interests.

While we weren’t preparing or giving lectures, we found time to explore our new home, UPF, and the city of Barcelona more broadly. The week began with a dinner in which Ramon Marimon, Director of the Max Weber Programme, told us stories about the founding of the university in 1990. The university has always sought to embrace the energy of Barcelona by maintaining its campuses in the centre of the city. We discovered this for ourselves during our guided tours of the two stunning campuses of UPF: Ciutadella and the new Poblenou. The former campus makes its home in a refurbished military barracks. Additionally, part of the extensive library is housed within the supports of a brick water tower built in the late 1880s to irrigate the adjacent zoological gardens. The latter campus, Poblenou, was opened in 2009, having completed its revitalization from former textile factory to modern technology institute. While it is not unusual for universities to place themselves in beautiful cities, it is rare that the campuses of these universities are architectural landmarks in their own right. But such is the case with UPF.

An underlying theme we noted throughout our stay at UPF was the pride the university had in its Catalan heritage. Students at UPF can select the language (Catalan, Spanish or English) that they wish to be taught in. In fact, the university itself is named after Pompeu Fabra, the father of the contemporary Catalan language. His original writings are on display in the UPF library.

Though we did not have adequate time to learn the language of Pompeu Fabra, we did quite well during our nightly dalliances with the food scene in Barcelona. With a plethora of restaurants both along the beach and in the historic centre, Barcelona never kept us in want of a good meal. And while our tastes in culture varied across the group, we think we all agreed that Barcelona had something for everyone.