The operational university



The operational university, in university terms, is the highest expression of neoliberalism


The first university I came across is what I call a “classical university”, which was the university from the 1930s until the beginning of the 1960s. It is the university of training, above all, and of reproducing its own staff. In the case of philosophy, this was clear, of reproducing the paintings for your own work.

The university that I knew, that I attended, was what I am calling a classical university and, in certain aspects, an aristocratic university, designed for a few, even because there was no interest, let's say, professional, economic, political, that was brought by the university. So, it really was a space of knowledge, a space of knowledge and something really aristocratic. Not everyone is interested in this.

The next university that was attempted to be created and was not possible due to historical circumstances would be the “critical university”, which is the one from the year 1968. It is that university that will call into question this classical and aristocratic university, but it will call into question also society itself, will call into question constituted knowledge, etc. And this university was the university blocked by the dictatorship.

So, here comes the university of the dictatorship, which I call a “functional university”. It is the university designed to train labor for the market. And it is the moment when companies begin to invest in universities, in the search for qualified labor.

This university was replaced, in the 1980s, by what I call the “university of results”. So, what do you want? If you want a university that proves to society that it is useful. So, what are the products that this university has that are useful to society? So, it's not just a question of training labor for a so-called qualified market, but it's also about demonstrating the production of goods and services for society, not in general, but for the highest strata.

Average and higher in society. It is this university that ended in the mid-1990s, and is the one that is in force until now, and which is what I call an “operational university”.


The operational university has two main characteristics. First, it does not think of itself, as the two previous forms thought of themselves, as social institutions. Therefore, equipped with rules and values ​​internal to it, internal forms of evaluation and self-evaluation and internal autonomy for its regulation. This university now thinks of itself as an organization. Theodor Adorno already drew attention to this.

What characterizes an organization is that it is not a social institution, it is a form of ordering work and tasks for a pre-determined purpose, the purpose of which is the successful use of what has been obtained. The organization, therefore, is focused on itself and on solving certain problems in the short term. Unlike the institution, the organization never addresses issues of universality, breadth, and history.

She works here and now with a product that needs to be made. So what does this university do? This operational, organizational university acts based on what is called “productivity”. But what does productivity measure? It is the extent to which an organization achieves a defined objective in a short period of time.

So, the idea of ​​expanding the field of knowledge, the idea of ​​expanding the technological field, the idea of ​​expanding access, the idea of ​​expanding the field of knowledge disappears. There is a problem here that needs to be solved here and now, and it is the organization's job to solve it. In other words, an organization works with strategies for a good result stipulated from outside it.

There is an external agent that determines what it needs, and the organization's role is to accomplish this. And, once that service was finished, her work was finished. At the same time, it needs resources, a lot of resources to do this, which are obtained in two ways, through the notion of productivity.

Research funding agencies establish, based on organizational and business criteria, the criteria by which they will finance research and courses. And it then stipulates the price you will pay, how many articles you will publish, where you will publish, how many theses, it is a quantitative thing and linked to uninterrupted productivity, of which, let's say, the most mind-boggling proof It's the Lattes curriculum. I had a friend who said, you spit on the corner and put it in your Lattes, spit on the corner so you can be productive.

Well, it does that and, on the other hand, it eliminates the notion of training. Teaching work is seen as a transmission belt for already established knowledge. It is not a place of interrogation, it is not a place of invention and it is, much less, a place of innovation.

It is, purely and simply, the reproduction, the endless repetition like a transmission belt of what is already known and known. Therefore, he has no training. And what is research? Research is what responds to the particular requirements of organizations.

So, the operational university, I say, it operates because it doesn't act, it doesn't have action, it has operations. One operation after another. And she is completely unaware of herself.

It accomplishes this as if it were the universal and necessary law of the world of knowledge. Knowledge disappeared. Now, all of this is permeated with neoliberal elements.


The operational university, in university terms, is the highest expression of neoliberalism. In the case of USP, and in several universities, the presence of this organizational world and this business world appeared in a very diluted way. I usually give an example of something that no one had paid much attention to and which is, let's say, one of the first signs on the surface of what was happening.

At the beginning of the 2001st century, in XNUMX, there was a doctorate defense at the Polytechnic School, one of the highest bastions of Brazilian engineering. It was a thesis about which were the most appropriate and profitable ways for distribution by Coca-Cola trucks. This is typical of what a company needs.

So, the doctoral thesis was in service of the Coca-Cola factories' need to have rational routes for their trucks. That was a doctoral thesis. So, this gives a little measure of what I'm putting forward. But there is something much worse, much more serious that is happening now. The following is:

The beginning of the university city as loci of the university takes place with the construction and installation, there in the Butantã neighborhood, of the IPT, the Technological Research Institute, which is of total importance. The major research that was carried out for the country and for the state of São Paulo and for different branches of social life were carried out by the IPT, with an immense capacity, similar to what happened with the Butantã Institute.

So, we have two giants who transform scientific knowledge into important results for society. We saw what they tried to do with Butantã, which discovered and made the first Covid vaccine. It was Butantã who did it and was not taken seriously and, above all, was crushed by the business world.

But it was Butantã that did it.

IPT was privatized. A partnership was formed in which, in fact, it was transferred to Google. It is owned by Google.

 And what is most depressing is that it is a shining building, a historic building. It marks a moment in architecture and a foundational moment for USP. Now Google has placed everything made of plastic in front of the building, little trees, little flowers, little children, kittens, puppies, everyone happy, everyone smiling, a happy world, which is the world of Google, which destroyed the IPT with privatization.

So, we have a university that demolishes the notion of training, because it makes teaching the transmission of already given knowledge, which destroys the notion of research, because research is not the search for what has not yet been thought of and what needs and can be thought, but it becomes business problem solving.

The privatization process that is taking place, which is characteristic of the operational university, has invaded the University of São Paulo. I don't know how other public universities in Brazil are doing, but this is happening at USP. There was, at the beginning of this year, a conference to which I was invited, and of course I did not attend, on the best forms of relations between universities and companies.

So, I would say, we have the functional university, the results university and the operational university. The situation at the University will only change if we, using freedom in the Spinoza sense of the word, stand up and do something.

Right now she's a disaster.

*Marilena Chaui Professor Emeritus at FFLCH at USP. She is the author, among other books, of In defense of public, free and democratic education (authentic).

Text established from interview granted to Daniel Pavan, on the website the earth is round.

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