celebrating the university

Image: João Nitsche


Speech given at the award ceremony of the Thomé de Souza Medal


The Thomé de Souza medal was awarded to the rector of the Federal University of Bahia. Previous speeches by carefully chosen friends have perhaps sought to demonstrate that it is not irrelevant that, at this moment, I am that dean. Generous friends! His words, with the exaggeration natural to the circumstance, served me as a balm, but I intend to show that, on the contrary, being dean completes an arc beyond me, an arc of institutional duties to which I only hope I have known how to correspond.

Firstly, that such an honor was bestowed on the rector of the Federal University of Bahia was a timely gesture and, I believe, one of some wisdom. The gesture is opportune, because it is fitting to celebrate an institution that, by itself, regardless of the diverse opinions present in it, is a natural place of resistance to obscurantism and authoritarianism, a place for the exercise of democracy in relations and thought, since in it, and perhaps only in it, the model for organizing life in common bears an essential similarity with the model for producing consensus on what is good, beautiful and true.

Deliberation and conviviality in the University environment, if in accordance with the principle of autonomy, create the conditions that also characterize unimpeded communication in the production of knowledge, that is, a communication in which the word precedes and is more effective than the exercise of force. or the enjoyment of past advantages. The University is or should be a producer of democracy and merit; therefore, it is a transforming force of invention of the collective subject, which, therefore, depends on (i) the equal rights of those who are part of it, (ii) respect for alterity and diversity, (iii) full conditions for participation in the processes of political decision-making and definition of knowledge and, finally, (iv) trust in the languages ​​through which such conditions are translated and realized.

Thus, we celebrate the University in this dark moment of dismantling institutions, suppression of rights, rudeness in the debate, forgetting both the guidelines of science in the formulation of public policies and the subtleties of culture in the establishment of standards of coexistence. In this scenario, in which the future of education, science, culture and the life of Brazilians is yet to be decided, the gesture is, therefore, more than opportune.

Not that the University is exempt from ills, exclusions, astonishments. It, however, is an exemplary space “of the laborious and difficult process of education in freedom” (BOBBIO, N. Essays on Fascism). On the horizon of democracy, the University stands out for the qualified production of consensus and divergence, so that in it, from the classroom space to that of the superior councils, it is not in vain that we set ourselves the goal “of the gradual and always contrasted substitution of the by persuasion”. (BOBBIO, N. Essays on Fascism, p. 36)

And this is the core of university life that obscurantists loathe. Interestingly, they can even praise knowledge, if only by paying lip service; they even tend to make an apology for technique and progress; and they gladly make friends with technologies, including digital ones. They are prodigal, moreover, in the use of social networks, precisely because in these, beyond the authentic will to communicate or qualified consensus, it is easy to replace the subtlety of thought with the lowest, repetitive and violent rhetoric.

Fascists are not enemies of data. They handle volumes of information well. What they do not tolerate, however, is good training, the kind that results from these spaces for meeting and refinement, especially if we have in these spaces the brilliance of our people – as now, when our Universities confirm the truth that refinement and excellence are not nor should they be the prerogative of elites.

If the Thomé de Souza medal is conferred on those who provide meritorious services to the city of Salvador, the benefits of our UFBA are clear and luminous, as an example and promise, as a place for training qualified professionals who are also citizens capable of nurturing the project of a nation that is not unequal but profoundly democratic.



In particular, the honor for UFBA now materializes in its representation. Allow me, then, to make a few comments about the break in the aura of the public University through the recent attack on the figure of rectors. Not long ago, the attack reached the height of coercive conduct, with the tragic outcome of the suicide of Rector Cancellier. Rectors should perhaps then wear some kind of cassock, remembering here the example of Dom Hélder Câmara, who, even though priests were released by the Second Vatican Council to go out into the streets in civilian clothes, always preferred to wear a cassock, as far as I remember, as a a kind of shield, a protective icon of sacredness, in the times of the military dictatorship.

So I believe there is some wisdom in valuing the image of the deans, and it is to be expected that they will also honor the shirt. I thus associate the gesture of this honor with the defense of Universities, with praise for the significance of their institutional representation. In this way, I receive the honor Cum grain salis. After all, the dean is not always the target of deference. At times, he is the target of suspicion, with the mention of the epithet “magnificent” being the object of some irony, as if the individual had usurped something from the community, as if he exercised undue and, moreover, abusive authority.

It is not unusual for us to call deans “magnificent” with a hint of irony. With our ideal of freedom, we have reason to be critical of constituted authorities. I, for example, really like to be called “João”. He is my name! And also “Papi”, I confess. And I may even have been ironic at times with other deans and especially with myself, but that was until I realized that the title of magnificent bothers more and especially proselytes of the current government – ​​many of them without academic qualifications, without significant experience in the field of education and, for sometimes without the titles precisely associated with the positions they assume. I tell two short stories.

I was still vice-president of Andifes and our board met with the then Secretary of Higher Education, who immediately invoked an atmosphere of informality, saying: “Let’s end this of treating the other as a lord, a doctor, magnanimous” – to which I replied: We all hope that you continue to be magnanimous, even if you are not magnificent. Technicians without academic preparation or prominence, and even without any relevant experience in Universities, in addition to not having titles, wanted to remove the aura of academic training, which is strange to them. Likewise, in another meeting, the then Minister Weintraub showed his annoyance in calling deans magnificent, including the fact that the dean of his University (by the way, absent from the meeting) was called that way. I also replied: – Minister, magnificence does not belong to the individual, but to the institution, and must be respected.

I think that's the point. Authentic magnificence belongs to the institution and must remain in it, being extended in this way to its eventual representatives. For this reason, it can be attacked by an obscurantist government or by the vested interests of those who, whether or not they are members of the community, disrespect the ways in which the institution meets its destiny and elaborates its projects. And it fades and even becomes ridiculous if it no longer represents a common bond with deep values. And the word, then empty, becomes an insult and even anathema.

We celebrate, therefore, with this honor, the magnificence of the institution, the aura of the University, which is realized in the internal and external respect for its autonomy. We must also repel attacks on representation, if it expresses the will and project chosen by the university community. For this very reason, authentic magnificence cannot be an individual project, and will always be harmful if it corresponds to a mere private interest. The choice of a rector is the most serious issue for the University. However capable a person may be or even just his conviction, if his choice does not result from the collective will, it will only be an usurpation and a fraud.



I know I'm here to represent a collective project. And, judging by the honor, I see that it is recognized that such a project was supported by our actions. After all, it is a project welcomed by our community and hard tested over eight years, during which we strive to maintain and restore the aura of the University, not as a projection of an I, but through the construction of a we.

The root of our harmony has been, since the beginning, in the idea of ​​a unique connection between academic excellence and social commitment, with which we challenge, on the one hand, those who believe that academic excellence can only be achieved by turning one's back on the pressing tasks of deepening of affirmative actions, of authentic inclusion, of creation of appropriate conditions so that authentic talent is not limited by social markers and finds its fulfillment in the university environment; but also, on the other hand, we challenge those who believe that the necessary expanded offer of diplomas is sufficient, as if a public University could be exempt from maintaining high standards of quality in teaching, research and extension. In short, our project affirms: we do not want a University for the few, and we want an authentic University for all.

Our intuition that this conjunction redefines the combined terms of quality and social commitment unfolded on several fronts or was challenged on several fronts, with the immediate and abrupt turnaround on the national scene. Austerity, contingency, impeachment, budget cuts, attacks on rectors, pandemonium, pandemic, 11 ministers of education, attacks on public policies, unfinished works due to lack of capital resources, scrapping of research infrastructure and restriction on development, attacks on our heritage (A parenthesis: the real estate market is known to be constantly interested in historic buildings and other large landowners even in our experimental farms – here's the complaint. Will the Chamber be silent about attacks and omissions?). Obscurantism, even barbarism – all of this made us go beyond what we could have planned in the past, but every initial inspiration, even transmuted, permeated gestures apparently far apart and, nevertheless, very close.

Following in the same direction, for example, visiting professor notices, CAPES-Print, the improvement of the concepts of our courses, seven UFBA congresses, a UNE culture biennial, a World Social Forum or the hard-fought inauguration of new spaces, the opening of new meal distribution points, the daring creation of new institutes, the fight against petty and unilateral projects such as the Future yourself or Digital Reunion, the safe life protection policy during the pandemic, the continued production of academic articles and dreams.

In the context of a strong budget deficit, distant and close gestures found and continue to find a common measure, the strong trait of a style, which does not belong to an individual, but to a team. And not just from one team, because this inspiration, visibly, is replicated in each UFBA university unit, in each area of ​​knowledge, in each finalistic dimension and, through management, among professors, students and technicians, as well This is demonstrated by the collective commitment and unity in our councils. It is as if we all knew, even without having signed a pact, of our long-term commitment to democratic resistance and the defense of the public university.

Our councils are an expression of that collective spirit. They constitute a privileged space for the qualified construction of consensus. Thus, over two years of the pandemic, we have managed to preserve the non-negotiable value of life and reaffirm our commitment both to our final activities and to all members of our community. And, with difficulty, we affirmed in the meantime, in gestures, in notes, in demonstrations, in public acts, our decided choice for education and our clear rejection of barbarism.

The serious budgetary situation of the Universities certainly leaves its mark. Many resent them and rightly point out problems. And they should point out problems, present claims, remembering, however, the duty to behave in this difficult situation as citizens committed to defending the institution, and not as customers. At UFBA, after all, more than a job, we have a calling, a vocation, through whose energy the institution is strengthened and fulfilled.

Our project has always been to be our own project, that is, to revive the strength of a About, which is not reduced to any of the particular interests that, however, it embraces and contemplates. It is our common task to recompose an aura every day, not by referring to small interests, but by transforming our people into protagonists in the elaboration of the most refined academic values, expressing teaching, research and extension with the highest quality standards, having the strength of our color, the even more luminous talent of our diversity, all being linked, at the same time, to a universal community of knowledge and to the local color of our people.

For all this, therefore, the affirmation of this “we” constitutive of our autonomy has been even stronger. Of that who are we, which we never cease to evoke and, with every effort, we try to honor, so that the University celebrated here is not a thing. It is a who, a reflective and collective subject, a subject who would sabotage himself if he became petty, if he became unilateral, if he subordinated himself to the interests of parties, governments or the market. For all this and certainly more, we are UFBA of quality, of resistance. We are democratic and inclusive UFBA. We are UFBA, between reality and dream, and we will always be UFBA.



But I want to take the medal home. Being from all of us, it was given to me and, therefore, I must conclude by vindicating my specific right. I will end then by saying that, in a way, these eight years, I tried to live up to something that, however, will always surpass us all. And I believe that (in addition to getting older, and I'm turning sixty next May 12th), I also became, over these years, wiser, stronger, richer and more honorable. Don't be scared, don't be scared by the phrase. It has a precise meaning, which I explain first by referring to a text from the Talmud – text that, not being obvious, I will also run to contextualize.

I quote the excerpt:

Who is wise?
The one who learns from everyone.
Who is strong?
He who conquers himself.
Who is rich?
One who is satisfied with what he has.
Who is honorable?
One who honors his neighbors. (Von KELER, Th. The Essence of the Talmud, P. 21-22)

Like every section in Talmud, this also needs to be clarified by its even deeper essence, which can perhaps be summarized thus: “Do not do anything to your neighbor that could be unpleasant to yourself. This is the whole law, everything else is nothing more than elaboration and comment.” (Von KELER, Th. The Essence of the Talmud, P. 39) If this is the essence of every law, every sentence must be subordinated to its formula, which, by the way, is approximately the negative and lowest expression of that of the highest principle of morality – exactly that categorical imperative that tells us reminds each and everyone, regardless of position or position, that no morally worthy person can take humanity as a means, but rather, always and only, as the end of any action.

At every moment, rain or shine, we have an obligation to conform to this high measure; we have an obligation to position ourselves as citizens; we have a duty to listen and celebrate the word, to seek dialogue and not to win through polemics. We have the duty of a thought that must be critical, but need not be citric, when it can be welcoming, since it is also up to us to react in the university environment to expressions of rudeness and savagery.

So, thank you and say goodbye, noting that I feel wise for having learned and for continuing to learn with the difference. After all, remembers Martin Buber: “When, following our path, we meet a man who, following his path, comes to meet us, we only know our part of the path, and not his, because we experience this only in the encounter”. (BUBER, M., Me and you, p. 100)

I also feel more forte, because having vices and interests like any member of the community, I owe my colleagues the reminder that we must all subordinate ourselves to a collective interest and, through it, fulfill our obligations and grow even when we diminish ourselves.

I also feel more rico (by the way, immensely rich), because I can only be fully satisfied with what I have, being a professor at the Federal University of Bahia, where we don't need to sleep to dream wonders and enchantments.

Finally, I have one honor Special. Times were not favorable to us. On the contrary, they were the most inhospitable. I have already said elsewhere that I do not believe that individually we have created a great Rectorate, but I am proud to have collectively achieved something even greater than a great Rectorate, namely, with all of you, I believe, we have made a necessary Rectorate. And I am convinced that I could have made a lot of mistakes, we could have made a lot of mistakes, but I did not dishonor nor do we dishonor those who pledged their trust to us. May we take comfort in the absurd image of the rabbi from the village of Chelm, when asked which is more important, the sun or the moon.

– Of course the moon! The sun shines during the day, when we already have a lot of light, while the moon shines when we need it most, when everything is dark.



I conclude. I've said enough. But I enjoy the pleasure of talking about this most honorable place while I still can. I begin to be yesterday, but with a very light feeling. I always thought about adopting ex libris the known sic vos non vobis from Virgil. And many colleagues around the world had the same idea, but even this repetition goes against the spirit of the verses.

Everyone knows the story. Virgílio's original motivation seems to have been to expose those who wanted to usurp his glory, stealing credit for the authorship of a work. Thus, it is true, he denounces: “It was I who wrote these verses, someone else took the honors”. A more generous reading of these verses is possible, however, which may make their truth even truer. They can be read as denoting a common and necessary trait for anyone who has ever done any work or been to a public place. Instead of describing a loss, they can be read in a normative tone, assigning the duty of donating to public servants. Not only is it so, but above all it must be so; and whoever is in a position must learn to be yesterday on his first day of work, because it is up to him to prepare for tomorrow.

Sic vos non vobis nesting birds
Sic vos non vobis vellera fertis eggs
Sic vos non vobis mellificatis apes
Sic vos non vobis fertis aratra boves.

[So you birds do not make your nests for yourselves; So you sheep do not produce wool for yourselves; So you bees do not make honey for yourselves; So you oxen do not pull the plow for yourselves.]

Being a dean was one of the ways I found to be just another public servant. And we, public servants of the Federal University of Bahia, if we haven't had abundance in recent times, certainly prevented the land from being devastated. And let's celebrate. Many are the fruits, yes; hard work and many accomplishments.

Come and see. We have bad things, but also great deeds. Analyze the data, read the reports, visit the spaces. Let us not only see the negative, which is lurking everywhere. Amidst the storm and threats, we will leave the earth prepared for new and more favorable times, in which the strength of UFBA will shine even more strongly.

I'm starting to be yesterday, but I will take this medal with me and keep it well guarded, as a memory of this time when we, united (together and mixed!), knew how to resist and even, with a healthy degree of madness, dared to advance and shout " advance cavalry!”, under the constant inspiration of the bugler Lopes.

And this medal, at this moment close to the farewell, is even more valuable because, I believe, it recognizes the fact that I have not diminished my position as rector of UFBA. And, I repeat, as a son of UFBA, of having been wise to learn from everyone; of having been strong for allowing myself to be dominated mainly by the collective interest; of being rich while bathing in the richness and beauty of our people doing science, culture and art; and to have been honored for not having shamed those who entrusted us with such a high position, always seeking to reaffirm the magnificent value of our institution for the City of Salvador.

*Joao Carlos Salles he is rector of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) and former president of the National Association of Directors of Federal Institutions of Higher Education (Andifes).


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