A Hero of the Dictatorship

Bill Woodrow, Sulphur, 1994.


About the revocation of the title of “honorary doctor”, granted by Unicamp to Jarbas Passarinho in 1973

Next Tuesday, September 28th, Unicamp's University Council will have the chance to repair a decision contrary to the scientific and civic education that our University has the mission of transmitting to our students and to society.

In 1973, during the most violent period of the military dictatorship, Unicamp awarded the then Minister of Education, Colonel Jarbas Passarinho, the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.

The Statute of Unicamp, in the chapter “University Dignities”, foresees that “persons who have contributed, in a notable way, to the progress of the sciences, letters or arts” and, also, “those who have benefited, exceptionally, humanity or have rendered relevant services to the University”.

In addition to Colonel Passarinho, Unicamp has already awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa to men such as physicists Gleb Wataghin and Cesar Lattes, professor Antonio Cândido de Mello e Souza, writers Mário Quintana and Ernesto Sábato, politician André Franco Montoro, architect Oscar Niemeyer, bishops Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns and Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, chemist Otto Gottlieb, physician Willy Jean Malaisse, engineer Cristiano Amon, air marshal Casimiro Montenegro Filho.

Just last month, demographer Elza Berquó became the first woman to receive the title, which should also cause us to revolt, so many scientists, artists and literati deserve this title in our country and abroad.

All of these people are remembered for their dedication to the sciences, the arts, the university, and humanity more generally. This is not the case with Colonel Passarinho.

Passarinho is remembered for being one of the architects of Institutional Act number 5, the “coup within the coup”, which opened up authoritarianism and the persecution of opponents of the military dictatorship. Professors, administrative technicians and students were persecuted, compulsorily retired, exiled, tortured and murdered. The Brazilian university was one of the main targets of AI-5.

The title was proposed by Dean Zeferino Vaz at the first extraordinary session of the Unicamp Board of Directors – the University Council with its diversity of representations did not yet exist – on November 30, 1973. Five days later, Passarinho would attend a graduation ceremony at Unicamp as class paraninfo and would be given the title.

Anyone who reads the minutes of the above-mentioned session realizes how that “occasional” homage – made in a hurry, in the context of an exceptional regime and in a still fragile university – was part of Zeferino Vaz’s strategy to protect Unicamp, which he was building.

The granting of this title to a hero of the dictatorship – who sent “the scruples of conscience to hell” in the AI-5 edition – marks a period of shadows in the history of the University in Brazil, in which university leaders granted honors to their own tormentors as a political survival strategy.

It is so that this stain no longer weighs us down, to honor the other people who have already received the Doctor Honoris Causa from Unicamp and for the affirmation of the autonomy of the Brazilian public university – in these times when democracy is once again threatened by members of the central power – that I will vote in favor of the revocation of this title.

*Wagner Romao he is professor of political science and teaching representative on the University Council of Unicamp.


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