The Assault on the Universities

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Sergio Cardoso*

The freedom and autonomy of public universities are being assaulted from within, by the intervention of agents of political power and authoritarian ideologies disdainful of science, thought and the arts.

After the stage of insults and the falsification of the image of our public universities, we have now moved on to institutional assault, in an attempt to falsify them from within.

The assailants waited for the campuses to be emptied by the end of the year recesses, to, by decree, on Christmas Eve, occupy the rectory, with the ideological (and also economic: paid education) objectives explicitly professed and confessed since the beginning of their government.

For people of good faith, the most hateful thing about this Decree is the perverse intention of using the democratic instrument of consultations with the academic community to choose its leaders with the aim of, precisely, deceiving the expression of the democratic will within the institutions; in short, to turn the consultations into a farce and an instrument of imposition of the ideological-political interests of the power of the hour. For, the presidential decree (formally illegitimate, since its matter is devoid of urgency) conveys the finely calculated strategy and plotted by the “olavistas” of the Ministry of Education for the submission and suffocation of the universities from above, through the “occupation” of the dean offices.

According to the conceived strategy, a small organized and profiled minority will be able to obtain in the consultations – with a very small percentage of votes – a third place in the triple list to be submitted to the president's discretionary decision. Through this democratic farce, the government always wins (even in the case of a boycott of the consultations, its few militants will be responsible for validating them) and carries forward the desired elimination of the public nature of the federal institutions of higher education.

Universities were born and have sought, for centuries, to remain spaces of freedom – for teaching, research, debate – in relation to civil and religious authorities, kings and popes; they were born, subtracting themselves from the hierarchies of powers, as self-managed corporate communities (why not?) of students and teachers: universitas superiors non recognoscentes, establishing and recognizing the authority of thought and science.

The concept of university autonomy comes directly from this history, institutionally implemented in the activities of its collegiate bodies, researchers and professors. This autonomy is the condition of the services it provides to society through the exercise of thought and the production of knowledge, so that it is above all odious to see this freedom and autonomy being assaulted from within, by the intervention of representatives of political power and authoritarian ideologies disdainful of science, thought, and the arts.

The Brazilian public university, despite certain economic and political obstacles and constraints, has fulfilled its role and has remained sufficiently free, even if insufficiently democratic and insufficiently committed to the country's serious social problems. Aware of its role and the necessary autonomy to carry it out, the university will react to this vile assault. But that this reaction is not only the defense of the status quo, but an occasion for a broad institutional and academic revitalization, democratic, pluralistic and socially even more responsible.

*Sergio Cardoso He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at USP.

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