Fear and Hope



Against the destruction of the public university


Lula declared that he was not afraid of rectors; They weren't the ones who bit her finger that she lost in a factory. The statement seems absurd. Rectors today do not express any special resistance to the government, nor do they position themselves as its main adversaries, as if they were on the front line of the fight against the government's policy on higher education. Lula would thus seem to be calling into the fight those who are only willing to collaborate.

It would even be doubtful that an experienced politician would have said it, especially when he was president – ​​just as we doubted that a minister of education could ever say that universities were a place of chaos. In fact, the context of the speech, when watching the video,[I] suggests something quite different. He simply wouldn't be embarrassed by rectors, he wouldn't bother receiving them and, unlike his unnameable predecessor, he would have done so more than once, and he also had no reason to be angry with the rectors, who, after all, didn't take away from him the finger.

In short, Lula was not confronting the deans, nor was he calling them into a fight. The speech is much clearer and more generous than its confusing transcription, although the phrase remains unfortunate. And there is no context that completely redeems it, and the observation is, moreover, sad: Lula, who, for so many of us, vocalizes hope, now starts to include the word “fear” in his speech – in this case, a fear that it certainly doesn't need to and shouldn't have, but it forces us to reflect, because, as has already been said, words don't fall into the void.

If so, another question arises. Do universities have reason to be afraid of Lula? It also appears not. After all, the university community does not regret, in the vast majority,[ii] having supported his election, nor is he embarrassed by the many doctorate titles Honorary that were granted to him. Do not forget, among many aspects, the expansion of universities, support for affirmative actions; does not forget the resources allocated to science and culture. Above all, it is crystal clear that there is no point of comparison between any error he may make in his actions and speeches and the pure obscurantist rubbish that we have defeated and will do everything we can to ensure that he does not return.

Having made this consideration, we do, however, have many reasons to fear threats that continue to take shape even in the current government. A process of destruction of the public university as we know it or, better still, as we desire it, as an essential part of a sovereign and radically democratic nation project, continues to be ongoing and accelerated. The signals are many, some old, while others are now becoming stronger. Let's briefly look at some of these traits.


The university has disfigured itself as a place for the autonomous production of science, culture and art, so that it is diminished in many ways. In this sense, some important diagnoses have already been made, which we can well consider complementary.

For example, over the decades, Marilena Chauí has ​​insisted on the internal corrosion of the university, which would now become operational. Her reflection is, without a doubt, one of the most consistent intellectual contributions in this regard, highlighting external and internal reasons for the degradation of the most virtuous essence of the university.

The operational university would be, in his words, “the highest expression of neoliberalism”. As such, it promotes the replacement of academic creation by simple productivism, subordinates the general interest of knowledge to private interest, and ultimately demolishes the training process, as it transforms research into almost its opposite, as it, in such a way, environment, is no longer “the search for what has not yet been thought of and what needs and can be thought of, but becomes the resolution of business problems”.[iii]

Competition, privatization, lowering of horizons, all of this creates a devastating scenario for a university that should be above all critical, so that, to counter this overwhelming current, we would need to reiterate our most radical commitment to freedom.

Taking into account that Marilena Chauí is an intellectual reference that Lula would never ignore, we would imagine that, in theory, his policy for higher education would not add water to the mill of such destruction. This is not, however, what we have seen, especially if we consider the university for its more structural functioning.

Over time, the administrative structure of universities has been weakened. We can talk about a university that is now suffering the deleterious effects of precarious work – extensive outsourcing, which, for now, does not fully affect the teaching staff. However, we do have a brutal difference in careers that makes the work of teachers who have recently joined the university more precarious, as well as neglecting the situation of retirees, who see their incomes reduced.[iv]

In addition to this weakening, the university budget has suffered a significant reduction in the last decade, both in capital resources (which may now have some reversion with the PAC, but this selectively and through choices not necessarily made by the universities themselves), and in discretionary funding resources. The current absurdity lies in the fact that the budget allocated to the management of fields by central administrations has not grown and is flagrantly insufficient.

On the other hand, resources have been flowing in from various ministries (in particular, the Ministry of Education), but in the form of decentralized execution terms (TEDs). As a result, the common resource does not grow, while the volume of resources through which the university is contracted increases.[v]

Therefore, the condemnation of our rectors and their respective central administrations is double. On the one hand, they become bad managers, since they do not have the resources to ensure the proper functioning of our fields. On the other hand, they begin to mediate between the partial interests of the government and the even more particular interests of groups or individuals who are hired and must henceforth deliver products – it is important here, of course, to have confidence that such procedures, being lawful as they could not be otherwise, are also correct, something that only adequate monitoring and total transparency can guarantee.

The risk in hypertrophy of these two roles is clear. The university, in a brutal way, although it may have a significant volume of resources, becomes a service provider and not an autonomous place for teaching, research and extension, with the aggravating factor that such hiring usually escapes the direct management of the university and their control mechanisms, often being managed through foundations.


These two roles (of trustee and mediator), unless better judged, compromise the autonomy of the institution, its shine and value, in addition to undermining the position of rectors. And this is not a mere personal power, which is almost no power at all, but rather the symbolism of an institution that is the space for critical thinking, thus depending for its protection and realization on an effective autonomous administrative management capacity of the university.

I can't help but mention the symbolism. This is not, I insist, about the hierarchical power of the rector, but rather the very expression of an institution whose measure is knowledge and whose time is long duration. Only in this sense can the position of rector have its own solemnity. It has been like this in our history and it needs to be like this, so that it can also resist, through its gestures and its words, any attack made against the aura and autonomy of the university and, in a practical way, it can be defended in its entirety. any member of the community who is engaged in the production and transmission of knowledge, with full freedom.

With the administration weakened and the university's technical staff reduced, it is natural that institutions had difficulty, for example, in taking care of the volume of tenders during the REUNI period, just as they still have in the day-to-day management of works and maintenance. Now, however, making a virtue of necessity, some universities have decided to transfer the management of more resources to foundations – which, however, further compromises an already shaken administrative capacity.

Thus, in addition to taking care of a global project budget that, in certain cases, is higher than the discretionary budget under the responsibility of their planning and administration deans, the foundations begin to compete directly with the central administration.

Some may say, based on consultations with their respective attorneys' offices, that such a transfer of resources intended for works and services to foundations (once restricted to supporting research and extension) is something completely lawful. We must remember, however, the risks of a procedure that becomes abusive – similar to sugar, which is a legal drug, but whose excessive consumption, as we well know, is very harmful to our health.

In fact, despite its theoretical inanition, managerialism as an administrative philosophy also seems to be increasingly in force, being devoid of a reflection that goes beyond the reiteration of results or, sometimes, the defense of the more individual comfort of employment. Sometimes, with a discourse of modernization, the use of technology and, above all, efficiency, we see old liberal slogans being assumed as if they were left-wing, horrible saying, a neoliberal left.

As a result, the foundation of university citizenship is greatly broken, removing from the institution the conditions for forming an esprit de corps whose foundation largely depends on presence and coexistence, as well as certain procedures that are sometimes lengthy, patient, how patient the life of the concept must be.

It also seems obvious to us that the weakening of direct administration and its necessary guidance through planning associated with the institution's final activities, even when supported by supposed lawfulness and done in the name of efficiency, can cause structural damage to the autonomy of universities. After all, if we once feared that foundations would function as a kind of shadow of universities, we now fear that universities will become a shadow of foundations.

In consolidating this process, we will see the relationship between the means and ends of the public university, the internal and singular way in which the forms of management and the interests of academic autonomy relate. Therefore, at the end of the day, planning will simply be determined by the administration, as if we were another public department.

Numbers should speak louder than any abstract consideration. Let the reports from universities and foundations be seen. The data is public and clear, showing the distortions of roles, with the full validity of mechanisms that can only please those who consider that universities are not a value as a whole and should only be asked to collaborate on projects of immediate interest to those in government. or even the legislature, without guaranteeing the fundamental interest of training, freedom of research, equanimity between areas and, finally, the strengthening of their collective representation.[vi]


The situation seems serious and threatening to us. Some time ago, when faced with the situation of university hospitals, the proposal to transfer their administration to the Brazilian Hospital Services Company (EBSERH) was presented (and, in some cases, pushed down our throats). Universities would continue to be responsible for appointing superintendents, as well as, in theory, they would have the guarantee that hospitals would be used not only for assistance, but above all and conditionally for research and teaching.

Whether this process was correct or not, there is no going back in this case. Creating a company was not the only way to meet the TCU's requirement to eliminate the outsourcing that was taking place via support foundations. The result can now no longer be undone. The management advantages are many, resources are indeed more abundant and advances in efficiency have been made, at the price, however, of a harsh reality that cannot be unknown either, such as accentuated pressure on assistance and a progressive decrease in the importance of the remaining staff of universities.

However, what could even be debated in the case of these specific facilities, university hospitals, cannot and should never be extended to the universities themselves. The pure and simple occurrence of the word “fear”, however, awakens many ghosts.

Could it be that, in this context of diminishing the institution's aura and imprisoning its budget to external or partial interests, will some enlightened person come up with a solution from a Brazilian University Services Company, an EBSERU? Could rectors perhaps become a kind of superintendents (certainly appointed by their communities and with envy-inducing bonuses), but at the price of subordinating the institution to management principles and interests that go beyond university autonomy? Wouldn't contracting services be easier and more widespread in these cases, without control beyond the results themselves and thus tidying up the lives of many people?

If such a company could be discussed in the case of hospitals, for universities it would be the purest nightmare. The fact that the issue can occur in this now fanciful form is due to the fact that perhaps we are already sipping little by little this bile, so that, even though they are absurd, equivalent proposals (as a whole or in pieces) may emerge from within some drawer, in which they can already be cured.

The terrible thing, therefore, is that this fictional scenario, this dystopia, no longer seems far from reality, that is, that such a threat, even though it is unlikely, has ceased to be a mere hallucination. We need, then, to combat it at its origin, in its slightest signs, even when only in fantasy; combat both the concrete deviations and the most phantasmagorical possibilities, identifying all the traces now present of weakening of the administration, without simply being satisfied with the possible abundance of resources, if those destined for the common interest of teaching, research and extension are not guaranteed .


Not only to become “operational”, the university has advanced deeply in the precariousness of work, assuming the logic of outsourcing in its ordinary life. In a scenario like this, we must agree, the program Future yourself it may have been a mere experiment by amateurs. In fact, in my experience at the institution, in the dialogues I was able to have when a fascist government tried to foist the proposal on us, I identified supporters of the Future yourself in the most unlikely places. Sometimes they said, the proposal is absurd, but this or that idea could be used. And such supporters, it seems to me now, still act, surreptitiously or with broad gestures.

I am convinced that Lula does not take these aspects into account when admonishing rectors and strikers. Therefore, more than a salary replacement calculation, more than a budget account, we need to draw your attention to the fact that the university needs to react to threats. And Lula plays an essential role in all of this, if he remembers, as he has everything to remember, that the university is not really a place to create fear, but rather to bring hope and cultivate freedom.

It is up to us, yes, to call on the government (at least, the part that brings together progressives who respect the university) to combat procedures, to refuse mechanisms that sometimes tend to subject the university's budget to interests that escape control and the more common good – not even ruling out the possibility that, in such a disorderly scenario, the use of some resources may prove to be incompatible with the highest principles of public management or strictly academic interest.

At this moment, it is necessary that, in addition to fair salary and budget demands, the main actors in the university scene put the very nature and essence of the university on the table and defend it. May ANDIFES, for example, fight for conditions so that its budget matrix can be rotated, and not simply accept, as if it were a law of nature, that TEDs and parliamentary amendments grow uncontrollably.

That it also reintroduces the debate on the organic law and the autonomy of the university. That, with this, is combined with the mobilization of the various education entities and each university, so that this urgent debate permeates our collegiate bodies and even our assemblies. There is, after all, no university life or capacity for resistance if bureaucratic routine and managerial procedures take the place of the democratic mobilization of teachers, technicians and students, in all possible ways.

We need some critical refinement and a lot of collective mobilization, in a struggle that is also long-lasting. The university is a place for dialogue and criticism, as well as permanent activism by teachers, technicians and students. It shouldn't be a simple job, but a vocation. With such commitment, we can better identify and combat, beyond the immediate, the most petty forms of an aggressive instrumental reason, which can take on the faces of liberalism, Fordism or the most abject pragmatism in our relationships, undermining the very nature of the institution .

We can not forget. The university managed to unite in the face of the obscurantist absurdity of the previous government. You can't fail now. In the years to come, it must resist the more immediate charms, in the midst of a more progressive environment, in which, however, conservatives, reactionaries and, with great gallantry, self-interested careerists also proliferate.

It is not, therefore, a matter of resisting only external threats. We must combat internal gestures of complicity with the absurd. After all, members of our community can become accomplices in destruction with the best of rhetoric, whose justifications are usually typical, such as efficiency, agility, more resources, economy. And they will also say, as if it were a consolation, that the current losses will be minimal or perhaps will only be paid by future generations. Exactly the generations that are the core of our social commitment.

Let's be optimistic. We will count on many allies in this fight, including Lula, if he is willing to position himself, as is his profile, as a freedom fighter. In fact, we can well imagine: Lula is so shrewd that, unintentionally, in a clumsy speech, he brought up something that must unconsciously bother him. As someone who has invested and continues to invest in universities, perhaps he himself is disappointed with anyone who is being complicit in an undesirable mechanism or in the degradation, including wages, of our work environment.

As a trade unionist, you may be dissatisfied with some superficial or overt displays of smugness that you may have witnessed. Who knows, in the end, he is not, in his inadvertent wisdom, bothered by the current direction of education. He should be, for sure.

Every public demonstration, whatever the subject, must be considered and can be quite costly, and it is not up to us to have the bravado of calling ourselves courageous. On the contrary. We know well that fear does not diminish the dignity of the necessary act. We cannot, therefore, stop fearing the current situation nor the implications of any speech that indicates even the most blatant ills. We just cannot remain silent, and in our collective voice we can see promise, hope.

We cannot renounce our status as professors and members of the university community; We cannot give up on the university itself, which, after all, is our horizon and our reason for being. Using a beautiful image from Borges, the university is our center, our algebra; and life would have no meaning for us without its permanent defense.

*Joao Carlos Salles He is a professor at the Department of Philosophy at the Federal University of Bahia. Former rector of UFBA and former president of ANDIFES.


[I] The video is available in the article “Lula says he doesn't fear rectors: 'The missing finger wasn't the ones who bit it'” (https://noticias.uol.com.br/politica/ultimas-noticias/2024/06/22/lula-reitores-greve-universidades-federais-dedo-medo.htm). The transcription of Sheet, as well as that of The Globe (https://g1.globo.com/politica/noticia/2024/06/21/lula-se-queixa-de-greve-das-federais-e-diz-que-nao-tem-medo-de-reitores-este-dedo-nao-foram-eles-que-morderam.ghtml), is almost in bad faith, looking for scandal, but the video reestablishes the meaning, which is much more subtle.

[ii] For the most part, without being under the control of the left, as their allies and detractors tend to think. “This was always the useful ghost of repression” – as Muniz Sodré rightly states. “Reality is colored by a silent conservative majority, a cohort of progressives (center-left, social democracy) and convinced niches of religious utopias revealed by historical determinism.” Muniz Sodré, “Right, return”, Folha de S. Paul, June 22, 2024 (https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/colunas/muniz-sodre/2024/06/direita-volver.shtml).

[iii] Marilena Chauí, “The operational university” (https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-universidade-operacional/). It is worth noting that the pressure of privatization does not run in a parallel line, and can trample public education from within. In any case, such insidious pressures occur in a scenario in which around 90% of “higher education” institutions are private. And, with the usual exceptions, they do not conform to universities, whose demands they cannot satisfy, thus taking the form mainly of faculties, without commitment to the internal ties between teaching, research and extension, in addition to advancing in the format of an education at a poor distance, since it is not supported by authentic universities.

[iv] Precariousness of work and, also, breakdown of intergenerational solidarity, to take up a valuable statement by Roberto Leher, in “A strike das Universidades e Institutos Federales” (The strike of Universities and Federal Institutes) (https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-greve-das-universidades-e-institutos-federais/).

[v] We draw attention to this phenomenon of disintegration of the university, in relation to which the institution itself can maintain an undesirable complicity, in the text “The Hand of Oza” (https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-mao-de-oza/).

[vi] Foundations can be serious, no doubt. I give here my emphatic testimony of the seriousness, for example, of our FAPEX, of which I was once president of its Deliberative Council. However, it is simply not up to a foundation to establish control procedures, according to standards appropriate to the academic dimension, nor can or should such control escape the university itself – sometimes, due to the pure and simple absence of due regulation by its superior councils.

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