Chronicle about my kafkian endeavour to enter UNAM's Master in Philosophy

My note published at PROCESO (June 16 2016) in Spanish: http://www.proceso.com.mx/444280/kafkiano-intento-ingresar-a-la-maestria-en-filosofia-la-unam

On June 17º 2015 I celebrated my 23º birthday and, coincidently, my viva voce examination to become a Licentiate in Philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. After successfully emerging out of the bureaucratic labyrinth that is getting the degree, I had not idea that something even more embroiled and fastidious was coming: the admission process for the Master in Philosophy. My plan was to apply to the UNAM and to some foreign universities, that I considered were adequate for me. During the next 6 months I prepared myself arduously, saving all the money possible, studying profoundly to present the language tests required, and writing and perfecting a philosophical essay, derived from my thesis, that demonstrated my creative and inquisitive capacity.

Betwixt December and January I sent my solicitudes to the foreign universities, spending all my money in a bet for my education. In all of them the main criterion of admission was the philosophical essay, and my strategy was to send the best possible paper, combined with a very convincing letter of motivation and excellent letters of recommendation.

Just after that the admission process of the Master in Philosophy at the UNAM began. It is very different to the others, as it consists in an authentic bureaucratic endurance race. The UNAM required me things that the foreign universities never asked for: more documents, an admission test, and an interview.

I registered at their website, I sent them the email they requested, and I waited patiently for the announcement of the admission test date. With a week of anticipation the communicated me the date and the theme. They proportioned me two philosophical distinct texts alien to my research interests, and they told me that the test was about them, without any other specification about the format of the examination or the necessity of consulting additional bibliography.

The test was applied at the UNAM’s tower in Tlatelolco, in two computer rooms, and there were -according to my own calculations- at least 130 persons presenting it. While I waited I chatted with my partners; we reviewed the main ideas of the texts, and after doing it I ended impressed by their high dominance of the theme. Then I thought that they were going to pass easily, and that I would need to make a big effort to achieve it, nonetheless I was determined to not worry too much, and I made it tranquilly.

I had to answer, in 3 hours, 5 questions about a specific section of only one of the texts. As it was not clear what kind of answers they sought, I asked if the answers had to be long, like little essays, or short and synthetic; but the instruction of the professor was «only answer the question», and without knowing what they precisely wanted, I had to gamble and use the king of answer I thought was more appropriate -synthetic answer-, and pray to coincide with their criterion.

I passed the test, although I do not know how I achieved it, as they do not return grades nor comments to the participants. Almost all of my acquaintances, those that I thought that were going to pass easily, failed. Only one of them passed.

Then I had to deliver the documentation, without a single mistake, as they seek any minuscule error to disqualify the aspirant. I had to upload the documents to two different websites, and also deliver them personally in photocopies.

Among the things they requested, and that no other university asked for, there were a project of investigation and a letter of an intern tutor of the postgraduate programme declaring that he accepted to direct my research work.

I made my research project thinking in what I proposed in my thesis and in my philosophical essay. I got help from the professor that was my adviser for the license thesis, and I asked him to be my tutor -and fulfil the requisite of an intern tutor that way-. He accepted and inquired with the coordination of the postgraduate programme about the paperwork necessary to become a tutor. They told him that he could not be a tutor, as he had not certain kind of high level contract with the university that was required. When he told me that, I could only think that that rule was made to avoid any compromise with the many professors that have only temporal contracts. Notwithstanding he introduced me to another professor, with another kind of contract, that also accepted to be my tutor.

I thought that I had everything ready, and I delivered my documentation on time -despite the multiple technical problems with the websites-. Yet they immediately adverted me that she neither could become my tutor because the kind of contract she had was not the one they demanded, and that I had to find a new intern tutor in 3 days or they would disqualify me.

I contacted them to every professor in their list of authorised tutors, with urgency and celerity. I had to brook the constant and generic rejections, with sentences like «I am not the most adequate option for your investigation» and «I do not have time to attend a new student». Finally a professor, with high prestige and renown in this institution, accepted.

The next step was the interview. I dressed with a formal suit, and I poised myself mentally to deliver the best possible impression. I entered the office and there were a man, a woman, and another person via videoconference; three professor that I did not meet before. After greeting them courteously, the man commenced the interrogatory «What is epistemology?». I was perplexed by how general the question was, however I gave them the most synthetic and adequate I thought: «It is the part of philosophy that inquires the problem of knowledge. And as the philosophy is understood, in it more general form, as love of knowledge, the epistemology is one of the fundamental parts».

Their silence revealed that they disliked my response. The woman continued «There are many things that we do not understand in your texts, specially, we do not understand the difference between your skeptic position and pyrrhonism». My project did not even mention pyrrhonism, and I used the skepticism as a problem to be solved, not as my ideal position -which is what would be pyrrhonic-. I explained that detail, and the serious questions of the interview ended. Then the witch hunt started.

«Do not take this personally but… we do not understand how you obtained your letters of recommendations nor how you got to convince that professor to become your intern tutor. Your project makes no sense» said the man, and the woman continued «Neither your project nor your article have structure or arguments. You ignore what you are talking about. What you write is unintelligible». Their words surprised me too much, but I kept calm, remembering the counsel of my adviser: «Do not fight with the interviewers». With a lot of patience I asked them to tell me what was what they did not understand, and to allow me to explain it; they said «¡Everything! Everything is wrong». So I answered «I know that I am not so experienced as you are, and that there are problems in my texts that you can easily find, but I can not. That is why I desire to study this master, as it would help me to improve and with your advice I would achieve to fix those problems and transform this into an excelent project».

The professor replied «Yes, it is true that the projects improve, but this one is too wrong, it has not argumentation. We believe that it is better for this institution and for you to make you wait another year so you can develop a good project». I did not understand what was disquieting them, so I tried, now not to ask them what part was misunderstood, but an explanation of its wrongness; yet their answer was, repeatedly, «There is not time to explain it». Thus third question arrived, giving awat their terrible suspicions about me «With frankness, we want you to explain us how you achieved to convince this professor to become your intern tutor». After the enormous difficulty of finding an intern tutor, these persons insinuated that there was something corrupt in it, perhaps bribery or falsification, because I seemed too stupid to actually get to convince this well respected and powerful professor. I told them that I simply asked till someone accepted, and he did it.

At this point I was not longer surprised, but offended and angry, because they, instead of asking about my future professional plans, my reasons to study philosophy, or my research interests, were interrogating me to make me confess that I had deceived them or something like that. But I kept myself tranquil in appearance, and with humility I insisted in getting a chance to explain my project and my theoretical proposals. The woman rejected: «There is not time, and also we judge only what is written; you delivered this, and it does not matter what you say, you are not going to fix it». I replied «I thought that the sense of an interview was precisely to explain what could not be understood in the text». They affirmed that they had already asked me those questions: the vague and generic question «What is epistomology?», and the irrelevant question about pyrrhonism.

I persevered in my insistence to get a chance to give them at least a synopsis that demonstrated that my ideas made sense and were relevant, but they -never explaining why- always denied me the opportunity, alleging that it was unimportant what I could tell them, and that they had already discovered that I had not idea of what is done in master studies.

When the third professor, via videoconference, finally talked, it was only to say «I have nothing to ask, nothing can be understood from your texts, and your propositions are ridiculous». I could not comprehend how it was possible for someone to not understand my texts but to do understand my proposals. Notwithstanding, the participation of this last academician finally gave me the chance to give a synopsis and tell them why my investigation was valid in their own norms: «At my thesis and my philosophical essay I examined the episteomological theory of Bertrand Russell, I found it certain details that could be meliorated, and I proposed a possible manner to do it; in my project I simply propose to seize this work to further investigate more philosophical problems, particularly, the problem of the skepticism. I do not believe that this be not philosophy, or that I am doing something invalid. But you focus only in the most negative aspects of my [ridiculous] proposals, and ignore the positive ones». I did even achieve to convince them that I knew what was done at an institute of philosophy.

Finally I requested some recommendations to improve my solicitude for the next year. Due to the defeatist tone of my request, they assured me that they did not know if they were going to reject me, though they found it difficult, and they provided me this magnanimous advice: «Read other master thesis». And with these magnificent and savvy words of resignation and submission to the status quo, the interview concluded. I abandoned the office, and went home, swallowing my wrath and my frustration, thinking in all I had to brook in this university, the most exigent and exaggerated of the world, to end up like this, rewarding them with the joy of humiliating me.

It was difficult to calm down, but I finally return to reason, after considering that it was not possible that I were so bad, because I could not have reached this point, if I had not passed the viva voce examination of my thesis, if I had not passed all my subjects, if I had not passed all the endless phases of examination. But they, perhaps, believe that there can be failures in the system, and make these pejorative interviews to get rid of parvenus like me.

A week later an European University, with higher prestige than the UNAM, and far better positioned in the world ranking of Universities in the subject of philosophy, sent me my letter of unconditional admission. This was, not only a joy, but a relief for my spirit, as it was the definitive prove of the wrongness of those despotic professors. This illustrious European university, considering only my curriculum vitae and my philosophical essay, without interviews (to avoid favouritism or rudeness), without mysterious tests (because the philosophical ability can not be measured in a single test), without projects (because the wise way to do them is with the help of the professor, while one is already studying the master), nor letters of intern tutors (as it is silly to require the aspirant to already have a tutor when he has not even met with the professors), estimated that I was prepared enough to study a master at their distinguished institute of philosophy.

I sent a solicitude for a scholarship to the FONCA-CONACYT, with the hope of obtaining the only scholarship that the government of Mexico offers. There are not many probabilities of getting it, but it is my last hope to continue my studies, after being despised and insulted at my own alma mater. I only require the living expenses, as the fees are cheap and symbolic.

On June 17º 2016, I am celebrating my 24º birthday, and receiving the definitive results of the process of admission of the UNAM. It is almost guaranteed that they will reject me, and that I will need to devise a new path in my fight to continue my studies. But if they accepted me, they would put me in a fastidious dilemma: How could I say yes to the brash people that disparaged me arrogantly? The saddest thing is that I would probably accept the offer of admission, paying with my dignity the price of studying a Master in Philosophy at the UNAM.

My case is not unique, every aspirant has to stand the embroiled bureaucratic process, and every person I have met that has had that interview, has suffered it, brooking how they call him ridiculous, ignorant of what is done in his study field, deleterious for their institution, and better suited to dedicate himself to another thing.

I hope that the general public reading this letter discover the loony and humiliating experiences that a student has to stand to continue his studies in a postgraduate programme, that my rejected partners, and those that will attempt to enter in the following years, express inconformity and demand a change, and that those with the power to modify this, do it urgently; because the only thing achieved with these elitist bureaucratic procedures is to ruin the future of a myriad of persons with great capacity but only denied opportunities; and with that, to private the society and the culture of Mexico of intellectual development.

5 thoughts on “Chronicle about my kafkian endeavour to enter UNAM's Master in Philosophy”

  1. In my interview I was told that my research project was last century (but no data or information about it) so they did not like and I answered everything they told me: “I do not like”, “I DO NOT LIKE” that was the argument.

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