In defense of academic freedom

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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

Today's powerful people don't have the strength to end the physical existence of teachers, but they have the nerve to attack our reputation and do everything to intimidate us.

On October 23, 1975, Ana Rosa Kucinski Silva, a professor at the Institute of Chemistry at the University of São Paulo (USP), was fired for “abandonment of function”. A year and a half earlier, on April 22, 1974, at the age of 32, she had fallen into the hands of the dictatorship's repression, which made her a political missing person. Even so, the university bureaucracy, helpful at the top and implacable at the bottom, decided to dismiss her dishonorably. Colleagues of Ana Kucinski protested – grumbling, as was possible in those days –, but there was no way. The militant of the National Liberation Action (ALN), after losing her life in the dungeons, lost her title of professor at USP. Her dismissal, with stamps and initials on letterhead, marked the history of USP with shame.

In those years of lead, even private companies found ways to protect their employees persecuted by the regime's security organs. Left-wing journalists escaped death because they had the help not only of their comrades, but also of their bosses. At USP, however, this was not the case. Already on the first impeachment lists, the envious mediocres celebrated, silently, nurturing their foolish careerism. It is possible that, in the Ana Kucinski episode, a bloodhound confided something like: “But she was also very radical”. Another may have advised peers not to “challenge” or “face down” with the military. It was an undignified and voluntary disaster. By bending over backwards to wagons and combat boots, USP handed masters and students over to the dogs, who later abandoned them to the vultures.

A university that does not defend the lives of its staff does not know what it came to, it loses its identity. A university that closes the gates to the dreams of its students, that makes fun of the integrity of those who teach and imagines having its substance not in knowledge, but in departments driven by robotic anonymous people, is a branch of a butcher's shop.

Now, here we are, the college professors who didn't die. We are at risk. Let's not make the same mistakes as in the past. The power that is there wants to silence us, while trying to throw out the jalopies that it calls armored cars, to strike democracy. The militaristic view of teaching produces havoc and more havoc. This week, the Minister of Education declared that the presidents of federal universities “do not need to be Bolsonarists, but they also do not need to be leftists, they cannot be Lula”. The minister wants a barracks in each school.

Let's stay tuned. If we make a pact with the will that is uninhibited, we will be delivered to the symbolic dogs and their vultures.

It is true that today's powerful do not have the strength to end the physical existence of teachers, but they have the nerve to attack our reputation and do everything to intimidate us. Among so many attacks, the most eloquent is the one made against Professor Conrado Hübner Mendes, from the USP Faculty of Law. Author of several texts in the press, columnist for the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, he is accused of slander, injury and defamation by authorities identified with the President of the Republic. The Attorney General of the Republic, Augusto Aras, filed a criminal case against him. Federal Supreme Court Minister Kassio Nunes, nominated by Bolsonaro, requested an investigation.

To complicate matters, USP found itself directly involved in the persecution. In early May, Aras formally requested the Rectory that the professor be punished by the Ethics Committee of the house. The office of the attorney general, which intends to absurdly criminalize freedom of expression and of the press, arrived at Cidade Universitária three months ago and so far has not received the categorical denial it deserves. The delay worries.

USP's management has firmly faced the autocratic nonsense of the federal government. In this case, however, it is late. Hard to understand why. Is it due to small details and petty intrigues? Could it be that now, as in 1975, comments like “this is not the time to clash with the authorities” or “he is also very radical” are heard in the backstage of the collegiate bodies? Is this the explanation for the slowness?

No, it cannot be. What is at stake here is not whether the professor's articles are more or less aggressive, it is not the authorities' squeamishness. What is at stake is a matter of principle. Either the university assumes the defense of academic freedom, or it will be under siege and will only be obedient, as the Minister of Education wants.

Conrado Hübner has already received express solidarity from his colleagues, dozens of institutions and renowned intellectuals from Brazil and abroad. The only thing missing is support from the highest levels of USP. This support will not fail, we know it will not fail, but the delay is really worrying.

On April 22, 2014, 40 years after the disappearance of Ana Rosa Kucinski Silva, the institute where she taught recognized the error, revoked the dismissal and apologized to the family. In the case of Conrado Hübner, we are all sure that the wait for justice will not be so long.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of A superindustry of the imaginary (Autentica).

Originally published in the newspaper The state of Sao Paulo.

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