Absurdity and Hope

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By JOÃO CARLOS SALLES*

Against the block on the budget of federal universities

 

1.

Think of an absurdity; in this government, we have several precedents. In the case of budget blocks, we already had them in previous governments, it is true – and contingencies were always a bad sign. However, in this government, the blockades, in addition to foreshadowing effective cuts, are usually accompanied by a disqualification of universities and focus on the redistribution of resources for other purposes – often far removed from the interests of education or culture in general. For this very reason, we are not only facing contingencies of economic planning, but rather a policy of progressive budget gap and effective reduction in the budget of institutions that, in our country, stand out for producing science, culture and art.

We are not facing the first blockade of education resources, nor the first cut to focus on the promotion of science and research, nor the first attack on culture and the arts. There is a clear method. In continuous moments of crisis in the field of education, the current government has systematically preferred to invest against the image of universities, students and educators, instead of opting for a solution that reinforces our intellectual independence and consolidates a culture capable of pushing away us from misery and prejudice. It chooses barbarism, therefore – and rejects our confusion of concepts and research, of freedom and democracy, both in the production of knowledge and in the continued exercise of solidarity.

Blocking (and above all cutting) thus becomes a clear instrument of retreat. History now repeats itself; and, once again, the federal universities, already weakened by a strong budget gap, face the threat of not being able to honor their contracts. affirms well the note from ANDIFES: “Inadmissible, incomprehensible and unjustifiable the budget cut of more than R$ 1 billion that was carried out yesterday by the government (27/05/22) in the budgets of Brazilian Universities and Federal Institutes”.

In effect, this is all the more serious because we are caught in mid-flight, when we assume the task of fully returning to our home and we are in dire need of funding resources to complete the preparation of auditoriums and classrooms, research and teaching laboratories, of residence halls and university restaurants. With the blockade, they seem to want to take away our ground and our future. After all, when we fully resume face-to-face teaching, research and extension activities, it is necessary to increase expenses with cleaning, building maintenance, surveillance and consumables, in addition to the consequent increase in expenses with electricity and water – and all that it must be done without neglecting care with sanitary measures compatible with institutions such as universities and federal institutes, exemplary in defending the non-negotiable value of life.

 

2.

Universities and Federal Institutes have reacted forcefully and clearly to budget restrictions, denouncing the implications for university life of the successive reduction procedures, which cause damage even when later reversed, as they limit and compromise the planning of each institution, since , given the blockade, bids cannot be carried out in a timely manner and under the most appropriate conditions.

The scenario of destruction can be easily followed, for example, with a glance at articles on our Edgardigital, through which, as well as through various pronouncements and other actions, UFBA has also never failed to expose the situation of universities or manifest itself, any government. However, the situation has worsened much more during the current government. That's why, in May 2019, we show how the blockade impacted the already tight budget of the University. In February 2020, it was necessary to show how the budget allocated to our University was becoming increasingly reduced. AND, in March 2021, we show how our budget, in crystalline absurdity, retreated to values ​​nominally lower than those of 2010, when UFBA had 15 thousand fewer regular students.

In an excellent article on the global situation in the field of education, “Two years of misgovernment – ​​the numbers of deconstruction”, Nelson Cardoso Amaral (UFG) presented, in April 2021, a terrifying picture of this sequence of blocks and cuts in the Brazilian scenario. The text is mandatory reading, and it is up to us to record that, when analyzing the expenses incurred in the years 2019 and 2020, in addition to those foreseen in the budget proposal for 2021, Nelson Amaral was able to conclude in a clear and unequivocal way: “a process is taking place in Brazil. process of destruction of sectors sensitive to the future of a Nation. (…) The continuation of this policy of destruction will inevitably lead to the “bankruptcy” of Federal Universities, Federal Institutes, Federal Centers for Technological Education, funding agents for Basic Education (FNDE) and Science and Technology (Capes, CNPq and FNDCT )”.

The current blockade, which affects the MCTI with around 3 billion and removes from the set of universities and federal institutes 14,5% of its discretionary budget, is simply devastating. In the case of UFBA, it reaches the amount of R$26.029.266,00, representing 25,1% of the amount originally available for the current year. In our case, this corresponds to approximately four months of expenses with the payment of several ongoing contracts, which include, among others: electricity and water, security and surveillance, cleaning, concierge, transportation, building maintenance and circulation areas, in addition to affect the acquisition of consumables and support for university units.

Since 2016, as our Pro-Rector of Planning, Eduardo Mota (who supports us here with data on the effects of the blockade), tells us, a progressive reduction of LOA resources for discretionary expenses has been imposed on UFBA. The accumulated variation of the IPCA index between 01/01/2016 and 01/01/2022 was around 36,2%, so that, when applied to the 2016 funding budget amount and compared to the corresponding amount entered in the LOA 2022, results in a lesser difference of around 80 million reais, when, on the contrary, continuous administrative contracts undergo mandatory inflationary adjustments annually. And, on the other hand, also putting pressure on the budget, between 2014 and 2020, the number of enrollments in undergraduate courses at UFBA increased by 19,2%, while the number of enrollments in postgraduate courses stricto sensu increased by 21,1%.

In this way, to the budget gap, always aggravated by annual values ​​of the LOA lower than necessary, comes this new blocking of resources for operation - blockage that, if it lasts, may indeed make the full face-to-face operation of the University unfeasible in the second semester.

 

3.

At this moment, the absurd seems to want to complete the service of destruction, making use of perverse argumentative and practical expedients, which denote a deep misunderstanding about the university or, on the contrary, the conviction that a public university, free, inclusive and quality is not really part of your project.

As we are not a simple public department, it is natural that the exercise of our autonomy is uncomfortable, since it is based on an intimate link between teaching, research and extension, which makes our institutions an essential asset to a democratic nation project. However, agents in key government positions seem to want to create reasons for the false thesis that the public university, in addition to being undesirable, would be unfeasible, and it seems natural to them to propose that the state relieve itself of the constitutional task of public funding of higher education. Education starts to be described by these agents and by their proceres as a problem, a cost, a luxury, when it is an investment, a collective bet on the present and the future.

Thus, they use petty expedients, with the appearance of rationality, to justify their absurdities. A truly disastrous expedient is the one now used to withhold funding resources from the Public University, on the pretext of using them to subsidize the increase in mandatory personnel expenses. Certainly, civil servants feel the need for a salary increase firsthand. However, as fair as the claim may be, such action cannot be met by the dubious path now outlined by the government, whereby it gives with one hand, while withdrawing with the other.

The government thus seeks to divide the university community, opposing the legitimate interests of our categories to the interests, which are still essential for maintaining the institution, as if the increase in our salaries could be provided at the expense of scrapping the universities and institutes in which we carry out our work. . With that, it only pretends to defend the interests of public servants, as it effectively abandons and compromises the house where we work.

Second, and not exactly by mere coincidence, they accompany their budget reduction measures with the presentation of fanciful solutions for alternative sources of fundraising. They thus make projects appear as a solution for the public university that end up affecting its nature, either by suppressing the constitutional principle of gratuity, or by transferring to individuals the support of expenses, through the loan mechanism conditioned to the future income of the students – proposal that is aired as one more trial balloon of multiple neoliberal considerations. In both cases, we have a clear misunderstanding of the universities' current budget matrix and the composition of their community, mostly in a vulnerable situation.

Thus, with the end of gratuity, a proposal is offered that is known to be inept at attracting students, but which, if implemented, would compromise the proper distribution of resources across the various areas of knowledge, in addition to separating, within the student community, those who would be citizens and those who would act as customers. The proposal, disguised as a budgetary solution, has the deleterious effect of compromising the necessary investment in all dimensions of knowledge at the university, failing to guarantee, in a long-term perspective, the living conditions of this culture, training and research equipment.

On the other hand, with the idea of ​​student loans conditional on their future income, the State's responsibility is also removed and shifted to individuals, who are now doubly taxed (in taxes already paid and in payments to be made to the rest of life), with the undue implications and distortions for the survival of relevant courses for the university – implications quite similar to those that would result from the end of gratuity.

In this government, nothing comes down to just the budget. There are always other purposes, some clearly demolishing public policies aimed at the common good. On the other hand, paradoxically, everything is leveled in the argument for the budgetary issue, everything is limited to the immediate plan, as if intending, with this, some accounting justification for their nonsense. No wonder, in our arguments of resistance, we always need to emphasize the relevance of the dimensions of culture and art, intimately associated with university life and brutally affected in the midst of this shooting – sometimes without due defense on the part of managers and actors College students.

Now, the attack, which has a method, is not just against science. Science is a target (and a very important target), but together with other symbolic goods that resist barbarism. For this reason, it even becomes dangerous for our destiny to defend the university only for some possible more salient utilitarian and technical function or for the more immediate results of its work, which it never ceases to have, but which can never reduce it, as if these were the only justification for maintaining equipment that, by its nature, is long-lasting and, therefore, must focus on both applied science and basic science, both technology and culture, valuing and protecting, we repeat , all areas of knowledge.

Precisely because of this multiple dimension, the University bothers all forms of obscurantism. We must, therefore, react to the idea that universities are centers of luxury, in which knowledge is cultivated without immediate application and, therefore, can be condemned to starvation. Certainly, we want the many and effective applications of our knowledge, and universities daily demonstrate their extreme competence in producing techniques and extraordinary results for economic development.

However, we cannot forget that they are attacked with more ferocity for symbolizing a unique way of life, in which the word has preeminence over any resources of power and where the culture of university life, in an exemplary way, proves to be capable of overcoming discrimination, privileges and prejudices. Therefore, it is not enough for us to defend investment in laboratories, to protect only certain research centers, if for that reason we abandon the refinement cultivated jointly and harmoniously in all our spaces and which, fortunately, is not and should not be a prerogative of the elites.

 

4.

If the absurd has a precedent, we also have the multiple and diverse precedent of our struggle. We managed to resist and overcome announcements of blockade, of contingency. We have been able to revert many deleterious actions. And we have achieved this, both through our struggle and through our responsibility to take tough measures, to keep our heads high and guarantee, even with serious damage, the essentials of our teaching, research and extension duties. To the absurdity of the attacks, clear examples of barbarism that contaminates the social fabric, we have the response of education, which, once again, is challenged to express its strength and fulfill its commitment to knowledge and solidarity.

Back in the 1970s, I was able to watch my friend Fred Dantas, then a young high school student, present his song “Esperança” at a festival, representing our Colégio 2 de Julho. The opening verses of the song said, in a precious melody that still touches the heart of those who know it: “Hope, it's time to live later!/ Thunder of lights, foreshadowing of a storm./ Lightning shines, majesties shudder ./ And from my strong chest springs the cry of thunder.” (Hope, Carlos Martins-Umberto Moreira-Fred Dantas)

At this moment of yet another attack, these verses leapt from the trapeze of the brain that, in the past, lulled young people in the fight against the military dictatorship – sometimes with great voluntarism. The music, it seems to me, holds the ever-present message that it takes courage to choose education over weapons, to choose life and react to what kills us. It takes, therefore, determination to opt for democracy and freedom. And, especially when the signs are even more difficult and the weather more adverse, we must not give up on the future.

We now have institutional responsibilities, we have different ways of organizing our resistance and also the obligation to take care of the institutional health of our universities. Lessons from that struggle, however, cannot be forgotten, especially when they clearly intend to destroy universities – equipment for culture, knowledge and democracy.

We therefore need to ward off the bad omen together. We must continue chanting the verse “Hope, it's time to live later”, which does not invite us to passivity, but to mobilization. Not being the first time that the public university has been threatened, hope can only live until later with the firm awareness of the gravity of the moment and with the energy even more necessary for our fight. It is not the first time that, shamelessly, they want to stifle education. Now, in the classrooms, in the laboratories, in institutional dialogue, in cultural spaces, in the courts, in parliament, in the streets and in the polls, it depends on us to mobilize so that this time is the last.

*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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