The functionalist University

Carla Barchini, Self-portrait VIIII, 2019, Cement tiles, 20 cm3


The guidance contract between professors and students should not function as if the university were a business desk


Since the 1980s Marilena Chauí[I] offers us precise diagnoses about the contagion of the university by neoliberal assumptions, among them the displacement of research and extracurricular teaching, which went from core activities to means of obtaining financing – almost always according to the rules of private capital, guided by ideology of “competence” and “performance”.

In his professorship thesis, defended in 2002 in the area of ​​Brazilian Literature, João Adolfo Hansen suggested that, since the beginning of the 1980s, the university had started to structure and function like a large company, with the advent of assumptions that orbit management models and encourage competition between colleagues, according to the (anti)ethics of profit.

As we know, the discussion is also old in other countries. Between the 1950s and 1960s, Edgar Morin[ii] He was one of the first to observe that the intellectual occupied an ambivalent place in the so-called “post-modern” society, as he ran the risk of radiating critical judgments about the institution that supported him.

After six decades, what can we say about the relationship between researchers and professors, when their projects are submitted to the designs of large companies, banks and corporations?


What stage is the university at today? She is “overcoming” herself, in the campaign of strict obedience to the dictates of neoliberalism. I mean, the higher education institution improved the “operational” profile (as Chauí showed), refining the “managerial” conception (as Hansen suggested), reinforcing the questionable criteria of quantitative evaluation.

Obviously, the metrics that guide funding agencies were combined with the increasing rigors of the educational institution.

One of the reasons for teaching malaise lies in the fact that we feel constantly judged by an omnipresent court (installed from departments to the rectory), running the serious risk of dealing with recriminatory sentences about our small “production” or our inability to "raise funds".

Now, how are resources raised? Presenting profitable research projects (in the eyes of the “market”), preferably pragmatic and feasible, that carry the name of the university beyond the national territory, with the company's logo in the foreground.

But let's leave the stratosphere of big capital. On a more modest scale, say, between the corridors and classrooms, there are episodes starring students who, even before their research projects (whether undergraduate or postgraduate), run after teachers in search of of pecuniary rewards for work they have not even started.

Repair yourself. The importance of scholarships and grants is not being denied: researchers are entitled to them, considering their occupation at the university and beyond. By the way, one of our struggles is precisely for the expansion of resources that promote and stimulate research. What is being questioned is the apparent inversion of priorities (and stages) related to academic work: research is an end; not a pretext for early reward.

Unless I am mistaken, the functionalist university is naturalizing the bargaining relationship between students and teachers, according to a utilitarian rationality, mediated by pragmatic interpersonal relationships and the spirit of free competition. Still in this regard, we assume that, in addition to the didactic content, it is possible to re-discuss the assumptions, rules and aspirations of the market.

However, when classes and research activities give way (for curiosity, knowledge, reflection) to financial transactions, it is important to remember that the guidance contract between teachers and students should not function as if the university were a business desk.

*Jean Pierre Chauvin Professor of Brazilian Culture and Literature at the School of Communication and Arts at USP. Author, among other books by Seven Speeches: essays on discursive typologies.


[I] I refer to Writings about the university. São Paulo: Unesp, 2001.

[ii] Mass Culture in the 20th Century – The Spirit of Time – Neurosis and Necrosis. Rio de Janeiro: University Forensics, 2018.

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