by Evans Yonson
(Note: This is a piece I wrote for my theory class in the University of Barcelona last year.)
One of the most disheartening moments of my studies here in the University of Barcelona is the fact that nobody seems to really care about their students. From where I come from, if you apply for an admission to a program in the university you will immediately be informed of what you are required to do, what documents to submit, when are the most important dates, how much amount to pay, and so on. The university’s main client is the student. Its main purpose is to render education to those who go to them to learn and get an education. But I never felt that here. I guess there are a few exceptions, those thoughtful and conscientious professors. But collectively as a department or a faculty, there is nothing there. I am not blaming anyone but I strongly believe that there is really something wrong with the system and how things are done in this University.
How is my situation related to what my reflections on Max Weber? Can I justify my observations on the university system rational? Or are these people or the system run by these people irrational?
Weber regards the development of rational forms to be one of the most important characteristics of the development of Western society and capitalism. He viewed traditional and charismatic forms as irrational, or maybe non-rational, which may include magic, religion or the supernatural to explain the social world and authority. These may not have a systematic form of development, but may rely on personal thoughts, disclosure, emotions and feelings, and features that are non-rational in form. Rationality, on the other hand, consists of a set of social actions government by reason or reasoning, calculation, plus rational pursuit of one’s interests. It forms part of rational-legal authority, which is the belief in legality of patterns of standard rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands.
The process by which my application for admission went through must have undergone a rational route by which rules and regulations were followed to the letter. However, if I take some examples of rationality from Weber and maybe try to apply it to my situation then I might be able to discern and understand what this whole system is doing after all. The rationality of efficiency says that actors have various ends and attempt to find the best means to achieving these ends. If you receive an email inquiring about academic matters, then chances the sender a formal response to his email. I have emailed several people but most of them never really responded. I don’t want to factor in the age-against-machine argument because we are in the 21st century, everybody has to have access to internet much more when one has an email address then he/she expects to receive emails.
The rationality of predictability and non-human technology go together. The university has established rules and regulations, and actors are subject to structures and authority. When I arrived in the University of Barcelona, nobody told me what the rules and regulations are. Nobody told me what is expected of me as a student. I mean as a foreign student I expect to begin an orientation of some sort of what department (where I belong to) expects from me. I am left in the dark groping for something to hold on to. There are so many rules probably. The rules of the department could be entirely different from that of the university, which makes everything in chaos. With information technologies, predictability is even greater. This is far from reality in the realms of the University of Barcelona. I don’t know how many more foreign students have been through these ordeals but I can only hope for the high heavens to shower wisdom on these creatures to make their acts rational.
If I were to understand the meanings of rationality and talk about my experiences in this university, I would try the substantive rationality. Individuals might consider a range of possible values or actions, and attempting to make them consistent. But this is difficult to achieve especially in modern society according to Weber because of economic pressures and dominance of bureaucratic organizations. I would like to believe that the university has achieved a formal rationality stature given its history and desire for quality and excellence in education. But some parts do affect the performance of whole. Maybe it’s high time for the whole to focus its attention on its parts whether they are performing what they are expected to and delivering the desired quality of service that they ought to their clients especially the students.