Bolsonaro's interventions at federal universities

Antonio Lizárraga (Reviews Journal)


Talking about “autonomy” is not for now and then; it is for us to have the courage for the university to be what it never was until today: effectively popular

A man from the village of Neguá, on the coast of Colombia, managed to ascend to heaven. When he returned, he told. He said that he had contemplated, from above, human life. And he said that we are a sea of ​​fires. "That's the world," he revealed. A lot of people, a sea of ​​bonfires. Each person shines with their own light among all others. No two bonfires are alike. There are big fires and small fires and fires of all colors. There are people of serene fire, who don't even notice the wind, and people of crazy fire, who fill the air with sparks. Some fires, silly fires, do not light or burn; but others set life on fire with such a will that it is impossible to look at them without blinking, and whoever gets close catches fire (GALEANO, 2002, p. 11).

With this reference I salute the one who in the last period, in the name of life, set fire without blinking with her courage, the elected dean of UFES, professor Ethel Maciel.

As the current board of directors took office, I told Ethel Maciel that if she had received her rightful appointment, since I was on the Adufes board for part of the period, we would certainly have had disagreements and debates, including the importance of the union's autonomy, as well as we claim university autonomy. But its legitimacy does not diminish and its dignity and political and academic relevance only grew during this period.

The Federal University of Espírito Santo has been under intervention since March 2020.


What did we learn (or should we have learned) from Bolsonaro's interventions?

We should learn that our autonomy, mentioned in the Federal Constitution, is only remembered in the current order when proposing, for example, that we have financial independence, which means that the university turns to raising funds for its operation.

Autonomy is also used to endorse Reuni Digital, a privatist project that dissociates teaching, research and extension, scrapping face-to-face education and seeking to meet the goal of the National Education Plan of enrolling in public higher education through EaD.

At Reuni Digital, “autonomy” is a word used to refer, for example, to “teaching autonomy”, which in fact represents the intensification of the work of teachers; to “student autonomy”, which sees the didactic-pedagogical model in an inverted way, expressing self-responsibility for learning (or non-learning) by the student himself; and, once again, financial “autonomy”, as it treats public support as a problem to be overcome.

Our “autonomy” in relation to the election of leaders is also an autonomy with quotation marks. After all, the appointment of Rectors/es and Vice-Rectors/es is made by the Presidency of the Republic, among the names of a triple list.

It is important to note (as stated in the dossier) that in September 2020, in the face of more than a dozen (until that moment) of Bolsonaro’s intervening appointments, a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (ADI 6.565) was filed in the STF.

In October 2020, with four favorable votes[2] autonomy and against Bolsonaro's intervention in the institutions, with only two votes left to approve the matter, Minister Gilmar Mendes asks for emphasis, removes the ADI from the agenda and the discussion in the STF is only resumed a year later.

At the time of the resumption (October 2021), two ministers who had voted in favor the previous year had retired (Celso de Mello and Marco Aurélio Mello) and Minister Cármen Lúcia changed her vote. The final score was eight votes against ADI 6.565 and two in favor.[3]

Minister Gilmar Mendes, justifying his vote against the ADI, not only tries to explain why it could not be accepted, but reveals his agreement with the existence of the triple list. According to him, “it is not possible to enhance university autonomy to the point of nullifying the decision-making space of the Chief Executive. Certainly, when making your choice translated into appointment of dean, you do not seek to monitor or punish the university, much less manage it, but you intend to counterbalance any deficiencies in the system of selection of public agents by co-opting the corporation itself to be headed (MENDES , 2021, p. 94).

These scores aim to highlight, as stated in our dossier, that “the legal order is important, but the interpretations of the superior courts are influenced by their political positions, which can be changed by indications made by presidents and by other factors. Thus, depending on judicial resources to solve serious political problems is reckless and slow” (PEREIRA, ZAIDAN, GALVÃO, 2022, p. 132).

It is for this reason that we defend, as approved in the 40th Congress of Andes-SN, the repeal of Laws nº 5.540/68 and 9.192/95 and Decree nº 1916/96, and for the respect for democracy and autonomy of federal educational institutions, in accordance with the Federal Constitution of 1988.

This claim is in line with the historic position of Andes-SN, which, with some circumstantial nuances, has roughly defended since the 1980s.[4], that: (a) deans and deans, as well as their vice presidents, be chosen through direct elections and secret ballot, with the participation, universal or equal, of all professors, students and technical-administrative staff, ending the elective process within the institution; (b) the academic superior councils are responsible for organizing the elections of directors, based on criteria democratically established by the academic community, for the declaration and investiture of those elected and for the communication of the inauguration to the competent authorities; (c) the term of office of the Rector and Vice-Rector is four years, reelection not being permitted; (CADERNOS ANDES, 2013, p. 25).

To accept this position, therefore, it is necessary to discuss what we call “autonomy”. Likewise, it is necessary to base what we mean by “democracy” and thus we will have effective parameters to deal with what we call life.

The life of flesh and blood; the life of the Brazilian people; the life lost by almost 700 Brazilian men and women as a result of Covid-19; the everyday life of UFES, which cannot be treated as an abstract entity to society, nor bend to this unequal society, which kills, segregates, disrespects, disturbs and that is not new that does this.

That is why I agree with the statement in Notebook 2 of Andes-SN, which states: “The Union has always rebelled against the submission of the university to the controls of power and against the fulfillment of functions that merely reproduce the current social relations. Its struggle for university autonomy means: autonomy to oppose the domination of the university by political and economic powers; autonomy to oppose the domination of the university by the interests of hegemonic economic and political groups; autonomy to oppose the productivist logic that conceives school, teaching and knowledge as commodities” (CADERNOS ANDES, 2013, p. 26).

Let us remain alert to the lesson we learned (or should have learned) with Bolsonaro's interventions: talking about “autonomy” is not for once in a while; it is for us to have the courage for the university to be what it never was until today: effectively popular.

The dossier shows us the performance of political and economic powers and interests. And this interference in the appointment of deans and deans further weakened our meager democratic model and proved to us that we cannot count on legislation that submits us to the “counterbalance” of “possible shortcomings” of our selection system, as Gilmar Mendes stated.

Now, aren't we defending free and democratic national elections and that the results of the polls are respected? And what if, after all that, the popular vote had to be submitted to a “supreme being” who “counterbalanced” our “possible shortcomings”? What would we make of it? And why do we have a weight for the national elections and another for the university election?

But how to oppose the domination by the interests of the political and economic powers, if we accept resources from the private sector; if we stand with saucer in hand in the face of parliamentary amendments; if the appointment of deans and deans needs to “please” political party forces?

How can we oppose the productivist logic if we celebrate rankings, seek increasingly perverse ways of controlling work and make illness and precarious study and work conditions invisible?

Incidentally, illness caused by a combo, consisting of long hours, lack of material conditions, blaming and individualizing results, lack of dialogue, decisions by small offices with a veneer of “broad discussion”, situations of fear and harassment, among others.

On this last point, what makes people afraid, on the one hand, and on the other, that there is harassment or condescension with him?

These are complex issues that cannot (and will not) be explained superficially. For this reason, I will not go further and only leave notes for our reflection.

If we have an undemocratic structure; if every day we see decisions come to us ready; if we have to scream until hoarseness to be heard and heard; if we remain silent or participate in the allotment of public spaces at the university, such as the backyards of our homes; we need to ask ourselves what our responsibilities are and how we think about the public university.

We need to look at our hands and lift them up, rise up against the ailments, without having to hide it and give our hands a little cleaning to do so.

A popular saying goes that example comes from above. Well, if our university autonomy did not come from above; if our democracy has been a sham; if we want to manifest our existence in a vigorous and lively way, in fullness, as Florestan Fernandes would say, let us not expect anything from “above” and forge our history from “below”.

* Ana Carolina Galvao is a professor at the Education Center of the Federal University of Espirito Santo (UFES).



ANDES NOTEBOOKS. Andes-SN proposal for the Brazilian university. Number 2. 3rd Edition updated and revised. October/2003. Brasília/DF: National Union of Teachers of Higher Education Institutions. Available in:

ANDES NOTEBOOKS. Andes-SN proposal for the Brazilian university. Number 2. Updated and revised 4th Edition. January 2013. Brasília/DF: National Union of Teachers of Higher Education Institutions. Available in:

GALEANO, Edward. The book of hugs. Porto Alegre: L&PM, 2002.

MENDES, Gilmar. Vote of the Writer of the Accord. In: BRASIL. Federal Court of Justice. ADI No. 6.565/DF. Rapporteur: Minister Edson Fachin. Available in:

PEREIRA, André Ricardo Valle Vasco; ZAIDAN, Junia Claudia Santana de Mattos; GALVÃO, Ana Carolina. The invention of turmoil: dossier on Bolsonaro's interventions in Federal Institutions of Higher Education [eBook]. Brasília, DF: National Union of Teachers of Higher Education Institutions, 2022. Available at:



[1] Speech given at the launch of the book “The invention of confusion: dossier on Bolsonaro’s interventions in Federal Institutions of Higher Education”. I would like to thank my colleague André Ricardo Pereira, who was in charge of the dossier preparation project, and my comrade and president of Adufes, Professor Junia Zaidan.

[2] Favorable votes by Justices Carmen Lúcia Antunes Rocha, Celso de Mello, Edson Fachin and Marco Aurélio Mello.

[3] Voting against ADI 6.565: Ministers Alexandre de Moraes, Cármen Lúcia, Dias Toffoli, Gilmar Mendes, Luís Roberto Barroso, Luiz Fux, Nunes Marques and Rosa Weber. Favorable: Edson Fachin and Ricardo Lewandowski.

[4] “On the election of leaders, mandates and impediments, in 1982, when the 1st version of the “Proposal of the Associations of Teachers and ANDES for the Brazilian University” was published, there was a problem which was the appointment of directors external to the HEIs. , which led the Teaching Movement to decide that: “the positions of direction and financial management should be exercised exclusively by university professors”. It also advocated the process of direct and secret elections for directors, at all levels, with the participation of all segments, in a proportion defined internally at the IES and that it should be exhausted within the scope of the institution. In the 1986 version, it was added that the form of election would preferably be parity. Subsequently, the indication of parity as preferred was abandoned and the regulation of the director process was referred to the scope of each institution so that the form was established in the statutes and regulations of the HEIs. The reform imposed by the governments of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, however, instigated the Teaching Movement towards a different formulation, elaborated together with the other entities of the National Forum in Defense of the Public School, contained in the National Education Plan: Proposal of the Brazilian Society, and approved at the 1997 ANDES-SN Congress, in which the indication of parity is resumed” (CADERNOS ANDES, 2003, p. 56).

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