Oza's hand

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By JOÃO CARLOS SALLES*

The duty of the Brazilian State and the contracted university

“When they reached the threshing floor of Nacon, Oza stretched out his hand to the ark of God and supported it, because the oxen were causing it to fall. Then the wrath of Yahweh was kindled against Oza: and there God struck him for this madness, and he died, there, beside the Ark of God” (2Samuel, 6:6-7).

1.

The beautiful and very current book Doctor Faust by Thomas Mann is organized by the reaction to the demonic – repulsive indeed, but also tempting, when not desired. Published in 1947, the narrator asks: “What human field, even if it is the purest, the most dignifyingly generous, will remain totally inaccessible to the influx of infernal forces?” Not only close to us, the demonic can be stimulating. “Yes, it is worth adding: which [human field] will never need the fertilizing person to have contact with them?”[I]

The question itself causes discomfort, as if such a furtive idea were inconvenient, especially in a society recently traversed, from top to bottom, by the experience of Nazism. However, by not formulating it, it would hide and protect itself, becoming insidious and even stronger. Therefore, it is important not to be afraid of revealing yourself. The uncomfortable question must be raised and such a thought “can be aired with propriety even by those who, by nature, remain entirely distant from everything demonic”.[ii]

Let us therefore raise our thoughts precisely because we are not surrendered, but also because we never know how close we are to such seductions and benefits. And let us raise such questions keeping in mind the place that, by nature, seems immune to any harm, but which, as all literature teaches us, is the most vulnerable or sensitive to the charms of infernal forces, the university environment.

2.

Much of the misfortune of the Brazilian public university lies in a singular combination of vices and virtues. While virtuous, it is an institution whose achievement coincides with our best project for a nation, namely, a radically democratic nation. Therefore, it is in its nature to be an autonomous place of knowledge and available for the long term. It must also represent, in this gigantic country, a common high standard of teaching, research and extension and, therefore, a commensurable quality in its various corners.

The university, however, is not born ready everywhere. In many of them, their creation still needs to be completed, if understood as the singular conjunction of academic excellence and social commitment that materializes in public equipment capable of producing science, culture and art, so that each of them can and should have, in multiple centers of their common life, classrooms, laboratories, offices, libraries, theaters, public squares, orchestras.

Although sublime, the university is not an abstract idea. Some have buildings, equipment and history to build, while others suffer the opposite misfortune. A university like UFBA, for example, which will soon be eighty years old as an integrated institution, but with parts that are more than two hundred years old spread across the fabric of Salvador, today has the misfortune of being in the middle of the path of the most spurious interests of capital real estate, with its green areas and historic buildings being sought after.

Its fabric, which is arranged like a beautiful tattoo on Salvador's skin, is a frequent target of attacks – which are not few and range from threat to seduction. For this reason, its defense is always urgent and necessary, and it is everyone's task to protect this heritage.

Differently, therefore, and depending on different times and local arrangements, each university institution justifies its existence as part of a broader project of a democratic and independent nation. Despite this intrinsic virtue, the public university is far from fulfilling its destiny, and has not yet become a national priority in this government's plans, with the oppositions now made between basic education and higher education being artificial, if not biased.

Consequently, the university often finds itself thrown into the common grave of disputes over resources, not even being granted the continuity of stopped works, sufficient discretionary funding resources or salaries consistent with the role of guiding the entire process of education and the production of knowledge.

It lacks a budget, so that it can, according to its autonomy and in accordance with transparent and well-justified standards, direct existing funds. Deprived of the most necessary things, they often point out the path of the market, private initiative or other paths within the State itself. The budget would need to be supplemented by the private sector, some cry, with the air of a new left – one that is in no way different from the old right. Let them sell their services and dispose of their assets, say others, much more shameless.

Generous gestures from authentic patrons should always be celebrated. They can result in valuable research programs or even buildings, as is the case at UFBA, the Milton Santos scholarship program and the recently opened Planetarium. However, that was not what those who, in the context of budgetary shortages, sought the “palliative” of introducing or strengthening obscure forms of patronage into the budget were referring to. The path to appeal then seemed tortuous, being achieved as if it were a favor. This cast a shadow over the university's autonomy and ability to decide its destiny, without external injunctions or internal servility.

The “Future-se” Program, with its bad name and sad memory, was the most explicit expression of this idea. He listed and consolidated all this fragmentation in the form of a project, implying the State's progressive disengagement with public financing of higher education. Symbolically, the integrity of the university fabric was even sold, which would raise funds by appointing benefactors in squares, buildings, rooms or chairs. All this despite any academic merit.

In a way, we must agree, such a disingenuous program, formulated by inept leaders, only sought to make a virtue out of necessity. Many of the practices that I described as new have already been practiced in a more or less dignified way in our history. Among his appeals was the fact that he would nod to the unlikely patron, but that he would now not simply be the former student eager to give back to his alma mater.

Rather, it aimed to stimulate the interest of investors willing to interfere in the game of academic production, shifting this game to the benefit of their ventures. At best, with a great and dangerous rhetorical charge, the practical result would be to make innovation command research, with all the deleterious implications for the university's autonomy.

3.

This spurious organization of patronage, repelled by the great mobilization of our universities, cannot cover up the harmful combination of two facts. First, the university's budget does not live up to its dignity or even its most basic mission. Secondly, as we do not have the figure of a great private patron, motivated by generosity or some other interest, there has always been insufficient and distorted budgetary supplementation – distorted supplementation because, being associated with fluctuating attention or favors from the Government or Parliament, moves the decision on resources and the guarantee of their regularity to other spheres.

There are uncontrollable effects, even when such benefits result from the decision of parliamentarians who see the university as an institution with its own high value, which they often go to independently of the prestige and votes they can draw from the university city. The uncontrollable (and undesirable) nature of this process is obvious. Without a guarantee of sufficiency and continuity of resources, a well-balanced budget is exchanged for an uncertain favor, which is far from configuring the appropriate way of nurturing a nation's project.

It is true that, over the years, the construction of buildings or laboratories, along with the acquisition of equipment, largely depended on the allocation of funds by parliamentarians. Also, research and extension activities find indirect patronage, as they come from the state, in the form of parliamentary amendments or Decentralized Execution Terms (TED).[iii] The number of such terms, by the way, has increased exponentially in the last year – which is very worrying, since such resources tend, through the institution, to privilege more restricted groups of technicians or teachers.[iv]

It is worth noting that the current exponential increase in decentralized resources, the amount of which may be equivalent to that allocated in the LOA to the expenses of regular administration contracts, occurs in parallel with a clear budgetary restriction. As a result, it can only seem more equivocal and unwanted, as the basic, indispensable and common to all things are barely guaranteed. And, after all, since this common ground is not guaranteed, not even the agreed objectives, if fair and well justified, can be fulfilled with due academic competence.

This situation can take the form of a “contracted university state” – a situation in which there are insufficient resources for funding and capital in the place that would be most appropriate, in the Annual Budget Law (LOA), although there are resources in several bodies to “ hire” universities, thereby even benefiting individuals and not exactly the institution. Such hiring compromises, moreover, the elaboration of goals and the control of resources, in accordance with the most public interest, strictly academic and, moreover, republican.

The situation is not exactly new. Without a sufficient and regular budget to guarantee investment in research infrastructure (not to mention adequate conditions for teaching and extension or even resources to guarantee true inclusion), the State itself has found, over the last few decades, ways to respond to the dynamism of some groups of researchers, as if we had two distinct forms of universities. One would be managed by MEC resources, while the other would be complemented by different bodies of the State, such as Parliament or other ministries.[v]

Given this division, in times of hardship (as has been the case in recent years), the university was often left destitute. It is not true that, in this scenario, only those professionals who were most willing to fight salaries were mobilized for the fight, while researchers, in a more stable and successful situation, felt they had more to do, in their only relative comfort. As always, forms of struggle and mobilization can take place differently, in accordance with academic practice, with a significant number of rules and exceptions.

In any case, the bottleneck of resources for higher education from 2015 onwards, including the end of programs such as REUNI, affected the entire federal system. The budget shortage (greatly aggravated by the obscurantism of the last government) paralyzed works and projects, compromised buildings and research, affected the quality of teaching and even the health of our environments.

In this context, even professors and groups that were traditionally most successful in fundraising found themselves threatened by the attack on universities, which reached the most significant limits after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, during Michel Temer's government and the pandemonium of Jair Bolsonaro's government.

4.

In this most difficult time, even parliamentary patronage trembled. I remember a parliamentarian (in fact, one of the most combative) who complained when, in the darkest time of the last government, the universities began to jointly demand amendments from the bench, indicating that they would be intended for funding. He rightly denounced the absurdity of this gesture, which revealed the scarcity of our discretionary budgets, unable to cover the most basic expenses of cleaning, security and maintenance. Did Parliament then have to help the Executive?

It is worth noting some points about this absurd size. Firstly, in disputes over parliamentary amendments (individual or bench), federal universities were often overrun by the greed of state governments, which are also accustomed to supplementing their investments with funds managed by the benches of “their respective parliamentarians”, including the substantial increase in the volume of resources for amendments in recent years, which, in effect, is the clear source of a profound distortion in the public budget.

In fact, in our Bahia we already had a ruler so intellectually limited that he barely understood the meaning of the university. He even thought, as if he were a co-author of “Future-se”, that research should only be financed by the Support Foundations if they were directly linked to projects of interest to the state government, especially in the health area. It is not surprising that, at the right time, he ran down parliamentarians, undoing agreements and withdrawing resources previously agreed for universities, including state universities.

Secondly, when called upon for this help, which became impersonal and from now on dependent on distribution made by each university, parliamentarians felt their pain, as if they were renouncing their historic political quota of parliamentary patronage, especially valuable in a land devoid of authentic patrons. They would thus see a loss if they were forced to reduce the funds that they would later announce in each unit of the university, as a result of their valuable intervention.

I remember here a parliamentarian from the new generation, considered pragmatic and right-wing, who simply declined in any event the list of resources that, over the years, he had allocated to partners in universities. He practiced a kind of protective parliamentary patronage. And, come to think of it, we shouldn't even complain about him. After all, he really allocated resources to universities, while others were proud of never having allocated a single cent to these “dens of stoners and communists”.

On the other hand, it is worth noting the justified pride of those who, over the years, rain or shine, have committed resources to our faculties, institutes and schools, often failing to benefit other potential allies. This support has been reliable and indispensable. Let us sincerely thank each and every parliamentarian for their gestures. Every combative parliamentarian knows, however, that this generosity is even more significant due to the brutal absence of the State. Under ideal conditions, such parliamentary help would have a different meaning, and it is not up to us to hide the undesirable effects of a system that, in poverty, ends up making political ties precede academic choices.

Whatever its meaning, whether done for proselytism or for good reasons, the method of parliamentary patronage has taken place in the context of the State's lack of commitment to education and does affect the autonomy of the university itself in the allocation of resources. Without a doubt, it favors the most agile, when it would be the university's role to subordinate political agility to its more transparent and academic measures.

It is, of course, up to the university and all control bodies to monitor the implementation of these amendments with zeal. And this control system certainly makes us safe. On the other hand, at this time after a terrible shortage of resources, it makes no sense to allow a chronic error to result in an acute crisis. Therefore, even greater attention is needed to the aforementioned relative increase in transfers of resources stamped to teachers or technicians, which can result in scholarships and other forms of support. Otherwise, academic choice will not be based on merit, and the selection of researchers who benefit from resources may have the bitter taste of mere favoritism.

The institution must be careful, yes, so that any academic impersonality is never subordinated to an exploitation of the image and resources of the university, to the benefit of people and not the institution itself. After all, it is not in the interest of any of the public actors to give the image that resources coming from the Executive can serve, among other things, some kind of patronage of leaders, who, caught in their indigence or simply wanting to carry out their work academic, eventually cool the vigor of a reaction that is now so urgent against the patent lack of priority now granted to the institution itself.

5.

The best intentions can be distorted, so to speak, by a matter of method. At universities, it is always necessary to ask whether an academic measure prevailed in the distribution of a resource. It is necessary to be clear, clearly, whether its autonomy has been strengthened or compromised, as the university under no circumstances can be a means for interests that are alien to it. In short, we need to know with whom and how we do good. When in doubt, no matter how tempted or in need we are, we should not reach out. In other words, together we must control even Oza's involuntary impulse, even when he does not intend to tarnish the sacred.

Even in the purest university environment, the sap of domination can be a direct or collateral effect of the eventual satisfaction of the need for resources, while the university as a whole suffers. Now, that would only break our autonomy and capacity for resistance. For this reason, we repeat, all attention is required. Ease of political dealings, good relations with the various bodies, all of this can bring benefits to university life, only if there is sufficient wisdom. Without wisdom, the political gesture becomes mere cleverness or opportunism, that is, an explosive mixture of a lot of intelligence and little character.

Seduction doesn't need many words. These tend to appear only to justify the projects – which, of course, are certainly all legal, since they all pass through different approval bodies. However, none of this luster of legality will remove the possible fundamental damage, namely, harming the democratic and republican soil for distributing resources or subordinating teaching, research and extension work to hidden interests.

We have to ask: what doesn't a good scientist do for better working conditions? Shouldn't they be capable of so many pirouettes, which perhaps those who happen to need a simple air conditioning unit to teach classes, minimal travel conditions to present papers at conferences, almost negligible support for productive work or a laborious leisure?

The answer is simple and we all know it. They must only do what is correct, never giving themselves body and soul to the production of sausages. After all, in any context, in abundance or in want, the defense of the university (of the very place of research, teaching and extension) precedes and guarantees its autonomous, democratic and public nature.

The Brazilian State must not allow or cause the fraying of the university fabric. We just have to see. When we lack resources, adequate physical space and an authentic university project, when new academic staff do not have support for their career or clarity regarding their professional security, we can have fights over a desk, a few meters of floor, a few hours less work in the classroom or even just more pleasant hours.

In these cases, the good scientist even has the excuse that he needs the conditions to be in search of truth and knowledge and that, in the end, everything would be justified, if done in favor of knowledge and professional achievement. However, was it not for reasons of this kind that the good Faust sold his soul to the devil?

6.

There is evil that attacks and there is that which operates in a more insidious way. He who attacks without any shame is perhaps more easily repelled, as he brings with him all aggression and no promise. Evil can, however, be done with the best of intentions. And, as intentions pile up, not all having a single direction, some of them are and even need to be good. Furthermore, in certain cases, there is a positivity in evil that seems “fertilizing” and even calls for some “good signs” to operate.

In the positive image, however, lies the greatest danger. Evil can also have its element in promise and not just in fear. It does not always coincide with addiction and does not even require malevolent intent. After all, more than a stamp, a label, it is a procedure, namely, evil is everywhere that kidnaps our autonomy, nullifies our identity, steals our shadow. When we least expect it, whether he makes us owe too little or too much, we allow ourselves to sacrifice our souls.

The situation is quite complex. Even reporting evil, if misinterpreted, can cause harm. It is necessary, therefore, not to destroy everything; We must not forget that, even tainted, the essence of the university (which is our place and destiny) has everything to prevail. She is sacred, after all. And, in the name of this aura and sacredness, we must avoid both petty denunciation and mere silence.

We must even go beyond the division within the university itself, trusting that those who love the public university must be together. We are certainly not competing for booty, but rather, collectively, what in us casts the shadow of a nation yet to flourish.

The university needs to be whole, or it will no longer be the best expression of a nation's project to serve a government or a party. Therefore, caution, in action and in word, in judgment and in the suspension of judgment, as the severe lesson of Oza teaches us – destroyed because he, in an impulse of protection, tried to prevent the sacred ark from falling.

Not reaching out to stop the fall of the ark, beyond the unfathomable mystery of the divine reaction, can remind us of the difficult exercise of continence. We should never, in theory, act or believe without sufficient justification for our action or belief, just as we should not apply remedies whose effects are, in the long term, more harmful than the disease itself. On the other hand, simply not taking action is also a form of negligence.

We must learn not to extend our hand so as not to dispute the very essence of the sacred, but neither should we escape the all-too-human impulse of what we do out of duty. In our case, since the university is an earthly God, perhaps it does not have, without our commitment and risk, the energy to protect its own sacredness alone. Tempted that we are touching its mantle or lifting our hand, may we never lack wisdom and sensitivity, especially to enliven its nature, without compromising its meaning through anger or the coldness of our methods and judgments.

*Joao Carlos Salles He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at the Federal University of Bahia. Former rector of UFBA and former president of ANDIFES.

Notes


[I] MANN, Thomas. Doctor Faust. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1984, p. 15.

[ii] MANN, Thomas, op. cit., p. 15.

[iii] In a definition found on the official website, “the Decentralized Execution Term (TED) is an instrument through which the decentralization of credits between bodies and entities that are part of the Union's Fiscal and Social Security Budgets is adjusted, with a view to executing programs , projects and activities, under the terms established in the work plan and observing the programmatic functional classification” https://saibaafundo.saude.gov.br/termos-de-execucao-descentralizada-ted/.

[iv] This recent trend of expanding Terms of Decentralized Execution at the university goes against the current of more recent and quite correct positions taken by the MCTI, which began to avoid the call for these separate instruments (motivated, so to speak, by the almost religious confidence in the pre-established harmony between orders from the Ministry and those from researchers) in favor of the adoption of funding guidelines defined clearly and transparently by their councils, with public and, therefore, auditable criteria.

[v] It is no coincidence that the political strength of certain groups ended up coinciding with their greater academic competitiveness and vice versa, something that would deserve a good study in the sociology of science.


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