In defense of universities

Image: ColeraAlegria


Threats to public and free education in the state of São Paulo

We have witnessed, at the most diverse levels of government, a new cycle of attacks on the fundamental and constitutional right to education. Studying a little of the history of education in the country, we quickly realize that the denial of this right constitutes a touchstone of the project of domination of our political and economic elites since the times of Colonial Brazil, and that continues, although marked by resistance and democratic conquests that need to be defended at every moment.

A novelty of this new cycle is the frontal attack on the public university. Once understood as an integral part of the country's modernization and economic development project, the public university is described by the extreme right today, curiously, as an enemy of development.

The foundation of the University of São Paulo (USP), in 1934, resulted, to a great extent, from the understanding of a sector of the bourgeoisie that without the training of high-level personnel, both to promote and accompany the advancement of technology, and to understand and solve problems the serious economic, social and even political problems we were facing at the time, it would be impossible to make São Paulo and the country place, with great delay, their feet in modernity.

In fact, the implementation and subsequent expansion of the public university in the state of São Paulo was decisive in leveraging regional development and placing the state in a position of economic leadership in the country. Both the productive sector (industrial and agricultural) and the service sector were directly benefited by the successful implementation of USP, leveraged by the arrival of foreign professors and French, American, Italian, English, Spanish and German missions, with its successive expansion. The foundation of new fields cities began to be claimed by cities in the interior of the state, which motivated the expansion of USP and UNESP, especially with the founding of new units and/or the incorporation of bankrupt private universities - then reformed and restructured.

In the state of São Paulo, the founding of USP followed the founding of UNICAMP – University of Campinas – and UNESP – State University Júlio de Mesquita Filho, with the aim not only of expanding our capacity to undertake advances in scientific research and to improve our technological park, as well as to extend the possibility of training qualified personnel to the interior of the state, without forcing the youth who left in search of a university degree to migrate.

With the growth of the metropolitan region of São Paulo, in turn, the popular demand for the construction and inauguration of new fields universities, which displaced the axis of the public university, set in the west zone of the city of São Paulo, in the fields Butantã and Pinheiros da USP, towards other regions of the municipality, as well as other municipalities in the metropolitan region.

Thus was born the campus East of the University of São Paulo, with the USP School of Arts, Sciences and Humanities (EACH), and also new fields of federal universities, which gained momentum during the tenure of Luís Inácio Lula da Silva in the federal government – ​​with the inauguration of the Federal University of Grande ABC (UFABC) and the expansion of the Federal University of São Paulo, which saw the inauguration of the campus Guarulhos, from campus Osasco, from campus Diadem and the campus East Zone, as well as the campus Baixada Santista, on the coast, and the campus São José dos Campos, in the Paraíba Valley. These expansions were only possible because the correlation of social forces changed. It was the party governments that resumed the large-scale expansion of universities and new hundreds of fields in São Paulo and across the country.

This expansion of the public higher education network, which was welcomed and saluted, was not without contradictions. In the particular case of campus East of USP, part of its implantation project, which vetoed the offer of courses in traditional careers (under the unreasonable claim that they were already offered in the other fields of USP), inaugurating, in contrast, careers of a technical nature, which still did not even have their own recognition or legislation for the prompt acceptance of their graduates in the labor market, already offered a sign of the bad intention of the state government – ​​at the time led by Geraldo Alckmin , of the PSDB – in establishing an internal hierarchy in the university, with demerit for the new campus, installed in a peripheral region. In other words, the democratization of higher education and the access of the working population to better paid positions was never on the horizon of the toucans. It was just a matter of offering a limited amount of degrees with access to mid-level positions.

The worst attack by the toucans on the university, however, was yet to come. Currently, state universities and FAPESP – the main agency for promoting research in the state of São Paulo – are directly suffering the threat of confiscation of resources along with proposals for the extinction of various institutions and state public services (CDHU, Instituto Florestal , EMTU etc.) with Dória’s project PL 529/2020, which is being processed by the Legislative Assembly. This project in practice destroys the autonomy of state public universities, preventing interannual planning of budgets, which are committed to research projects that go beyond the logic of annual budgets.

Remembering that PL 529/2020 does not arrive at any time. It is imposed on society in a context in which we find Bolsonaro, at the federal level, rapidly and overwhelmingly destroying the national research promotion agencies – CAPES (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel) and CNPq (National Research Council). ) in the country, which brutally affect research funding in the state of São Paulo. This, combined with the persecution of intellectuals, disrespect for the democratic instances of universities and their autonomies, vetoing the opening of new competitions and freezing salaries, with the consequent freezing of academic careers, training and renewal of staff (fundamental for maintaining projects in progress and developing of new projects).

Since the beginning of his government, Dória has adopted similar measures. UNESP has been prevented from opening new tenders for over ten years – a measure now also extended to USP (resolution 7955/2020). Without competitive examinations for professors, the ability of effective professors to dedicate themselves to research is reduced, along with the devaluation of the teaching staff, occupied by substitute professors who are continually replaced (given the legal impossibility for a temporary professor to compete for a new public competition). for the same vacancy), which do not constitute a bond with students, nor can they deepen in the teaching of specific subjects; and who receive demeaning salaries, devaluing their careers and discouraging the use of the most qualified staff for academia.

At the end of each year, teachers and employees are faced with the threat of not being able to receive 13o. salary. In the case of UNESP, the situation is so serious that entire departments had to be closed, due to the lack of effective professors to conduct the minimum activities necessary for the maintenance of their courses – as in the emblematic case of the Performing Arts course at the University of São Paulo. campus São Paulo. Doctoral students end up taking chairs instead of professors, sacrificing both their dedication to research (which should be full-time) and, disastrously, the quality of undergraduate training.

The toucan governments were pioneers in disrespecting the decision of the academic community in the appointment of rectors, in a gesture of disrespect for university autonomy, and have repeatedly sought to reduce the linkage of ICMS (9,57%) destined to public universities. Along with efforts to impose budget cuts, come projects to downsize the staff of professors and employees, outsourcing services and increasing control over “productivity”, considered from the exclusive perspective of political control over academic structures and in line with the guidelines of the current authoritarian and neoliberal program.

This attack by the toucan governments, in the state of São Paulo, and the Jair Bolsonaro government, at the federal level, on the public university, is not by chance. It stems, of course, from its clear intention to empty the State, privatizing and commodifying all services, even the most fundamental and strategic ones, but also from the purpose of dismantling the institutions responsible for disseminating scientific knowledge and critical thinking. The political project of these rulers involves the erosion of democratic citizenship, the maintenance of economic privileges and the weakening of democracy and autonomy (directly linked to education and culture) of individuals. It reveals more profoundly the disregard for science and the capacity for national technological innovation, the submission to the dictates of the international market, of imported technologies and knowledge, the renunciation of any national project.

University autonomy, which aims to preserve freedom for scientific, artistic, cultural production and which should be a mandatory and fundamental component of a democratic society, is incompatible with the interests of the large business community that supports the Doria, Covas and Bolsonaro governments. In this sense, one of the dramatic consequences of the attack on the public university involves its consequences with regard to the quality of teacher training for other levels of education – notably basic education.

For the defense of the public, democratic and free university!

*Everaldo de Oliveira Andrade is Professor of the Department of History at FFLCH-USP.



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