Quanto Magazine

Interview with Christopher Fernandez Pineda

Here at Quanto we wanted to know something about the history of The University of Madrid. So we went to talk to Christopher D. Fernández Pineda, and after a bit of conversation discovered that the story of the classroom is the history of the Faculty, its spirit and its people. Professor Fernandez Pineda tells the liveliness that characterizes some of the events that happened at the Faculty in the sixties in the twilight of the Franco dictatorship. Here’s what he said.

“It was a really difficult time, at the Faculty hard times were lived because they were already the last years of the dictatorship and probably the university was the only place where you could talk a little freely, but you had to be careful, because anything that was said could be heard by the police in class. There were people in class sitting and we knew they were cops. At that time there was a police headquarters here at the Faculty. In the old department there was a thing called the police Faculty of Science, and it had about thirty guards there .. and three or four secret policemen, one of them was known as ‘the vampire’. They were hard times for both the teachers and the students.”

“The photos that I will show you was taken in the optics laboratory and through cracks in the window with shutters he pulled”.

Here’s the bridge, and water hose to the fourth floor, which was where the delegation of students was. The water had green paint in it, it made it so that you could not walk down the street. You were painted green and people knew that you had been in the mess. Of course there were democratic cravings. By then the Faculty of Physics was reputed to be a faculty which strived for this. The Faculty has changed a lot in that respect. Then, of course, when democracy arrived, the University was not a political discussion forum.”

In the classroom Magna, currently 1 D. Christopher received his first class and also taught his first class as a teacher. Then he tells some anecdotes about this classroom.

“The Classroom 1 has a great democratic tradition. I remember coming to class and sometimes could not teach because there was a hullabaloo and then a show of hands was made. Those who wanted to give class to raise their hands, those who do not want to teach raise your hands.. it’s a vote… One day, some students went to the dean and said they wanted elections. I was very young then. What happened next is that there was an election planned for May 1 … Sure, I got there on May 1, at that time we wore gowns, I put on my robe and went to class. When I got to school I found the classroom and the hallway and all full. Then I saw the police turn to me and say: “where are you going?”, and I answer that I presided over elections and they took me to the barracks. I told them to call the Dean and ask him why this had happened and why I’d been shut up there with thirty policemen. Eventually they called the Dean, but they left me a couple of hours there. Good thing they did not take me to the Directorate General of Security. So the next time elections were held, students again asked me.

“In my time there were very few professors, there were five or six compared to forty now. I think the faculty in education had a fairly acceptable level. Right now, it is working well and is being published in many journals. But during the time of the dictatorship, the issue of Physics in Spain was very weak. This has been a very strong evolution from the seventies or so. Physics has risen and, in general, Scientific and number publications. People began to publish abroad also because we were very scared to publish here. Today, here at the Faculty there are very good level. I repeat the phrase of D. Carlos Sánchez del Río, Dean of the Faculty few years ago. He promised to find someone who knew about any subject of Physics in 24 hours, here, within the Faculty. The weirdest thing that may be of Physics, in 24 hours we will look for one of the Faculty of Physics at the Complutense who knows the subject. This faculty is very complete, the average value is quite high. We are being published enough.”

“In the old system of recruitment of staff it was different. There was one thing, which in my view was very important, which is the thesis. I did a dissertation. Before when you finished the essay you could talk to people in the department, and you got a little job as you started to investigate. In that year you had time to start researching the literature, start driving magazines and to work independently. It gave you a good basis for further work.The first salary I had was 22,000 pesetas per year, some 1,800 monthly. and when I had graduated I had a salary of around 3,000 pesetas a month, but no Professor earned much then.”

Christopher Fernandez Pineda holding the chair which was once occupied Don Julio Palacios. Many other issues were discussed in our talk with Professor Fernández Pineda, a fascinating man. 

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