Last words

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By JOÃO CARLOS SALLES*

Speech given at the closing ceremony of the second term as Rector of the Federal University of Bahia

1.

Thought barely allows a glimpse of the sublime. He tends to approach him through the negative, as if words could not capture his most important residue, his essence, which would ineffably resist. In an ancient formula, the highest, the divine himself, could not be praised by our lips.

In relation to public universities, this is not the case. It appears to us in values ​​and in facts, as if it inhabited two immiscible yet interconnected dimensions, and allowed us to say what it is only when we also say what it is not yet, that is, what it should be. After all, the university is our highest institution and yet it always remains earthly. Therefore, we have a lot to tell about the university, experienced according to this constitutive tension.

Allow us to approach her first with a negative sentence, to ward off any bad omens and shake the dust off her body a little. The university is not a mere thing, an object, a what. To ask at the outset what the university is would be almost to commit a categorical error. A living institution, it is like an organism. Even more, it is a subject, a who; and, above all, it is a we, a collective subject.

It certainly depends on the energy of each member of the community, and yet it surpasses us all. It would not exist without our adhesion, without our delivery, without our donation; however, it is far greater than the sum of all of us. More than a place of thought, it is collective thought, a living body, which, in a space of multiple encounters and constant challenges, works, breathes, deliberates, dances and dreams.

I do not hide my inspiration here. In one of the most beautiful texts ever written, “Judgments of value and judgments of reality”, Émile Durkheim drew this force of the collective, which would be the source of every social bond and would be at the origin of every legitimate authority: “collective thought metamorphoses everything what it touches. It mixes kingdoms, confuses opposites, inverts what could be taken as the natural hierarchy of beings, levels differences, differentiates similars, in a word, replaces the world revealed to us by the senses with another absolutely different world, which is no more than the shadow projected by the ideals he builds”. (DURKHEIM, Émile, sociology and philosophy, Forensics, p. 112).

It is not by chance, therefore, once touched by the same source that authorizes us autonomy, by this internal connection between teaching, research and extension, we live at UFBA, or rather, we live at UFBA in the midst of wonders. We are touched, day by day, by the ideals that constitute and even define us.

 

2.

The university is not just another public agency. Every public service is noble, has a lofty mission, but is not homogeneous, not counting all of it, for example, with the constitutional prerogative of autonomy. Only an obtuse managerial vision, with strong ideological implications, can level the fabric of institutions and suppress their diversity, reducing all of them to the same extent. Such a technocratic look would then annul any values, telling us more or less this: in administration in general, everything is worth what it weighs, how much it collects, how much it costs, and society should not magnetize certain areas of public life (health and education, for example ) with any higher value.

This narrow-minded view, unfortunately, has prospered. It is present in budget reductions, contingencies, blockades and cuts, due to which the damage caused to the public system of higher education is devastating. It is present in the disrespect of the current government to the principle of autonomy, because with such an attack it is not known exactly that the university is heterogeneous to other institutions, it has other administrative measures, since its management is determined, not by abstract principles that would be valid for a company any, but for its purposes, its own time and its history.

In relation to so many and such threats, UFBA has shown in these dark years that it doesn't just last; she lives and has history. Even more, reaffirming its maturity and autonomy, with the competence of the entire central administration team, but also with the mobilization of the leaders of our units, of the different groups and collectives, of the representations of our categories and of the commitment of our students, technicians, professors and outsourced workers, UFBA proved to be a place where our history is woven, both in the definition of internal projects and in the affirmation of a broader project of the nation – a project that, in our authentic universities, results from a characteristic web of knowledge and solidarity.

We must agree that the institution has other faces, not just the brightest ones. These other faces, however, do not conform to the truth that we chose together. There will always be, outside or inside the university, those who prefer to see ruins where we see projects, those who find in the effects of the budget assault reasons or excuses to squander a citric intelligence and little willingness to work together, who adopt the easy posture of the consumer and not the critical posture proper to university citizenship.

The facts, however, do not testify alone and do not force us to surrender. We knew how to be the heirs of Corneteiro Lopes and, when real difficulties (which are many) appeared to us and they pointed out to us blemishes (which are multiple and some atavistic), together we avoided easy and devastating solutions, together we removed any paths that could compromise material or immaterial heritage. of the University, undermined its institutional health or made the much-needed budget depend on injunctions harmful to its autonomy and values.

Thus, among all possible universities, in the midst of gratifying or adverse facts, we designed together a horizon of defense of the University as a long-term project, as a state and nation project, due to which it would never be up to us to renounce funding public of its full activity, nor would it fit, by any proselytism, to belittle its promises of expansion – expansion that, being essential, must also be authentic, finding shelter in it the talent and color of our people and by it always preserving its academic quality .

 

3.

Let us resume our exercise in negative theology. The university is not a mere instrument, a tool valued exclusively for its application or for immediate results. However, in the language of government bureaucracy, it would find justification only in proportion to its “deliveries”. Similarly, knowledge would also be worth only for the jobs it can generate, and courses and professions that do not find a response in the market should be discarded or reduced.

Now, the public university never fails to provide immediate responses, and it has done so, in fact, in a notable way in serious moments, such as this pandemic, thus serving its knowledge to interests of different orders and different temporal measures. However, it is never limited to such results or deliveries, and it is not up to it to abandon the multiple dimension of knowledge to be cultivated and protected, nor to condemn to starvation dimensions whose response is more related to the very meaning of the institution, regardless of the return it may have. offer in the short term.

Misunderstandings of this order, resulting from an instrumental and pragmatic view, are pervasive and tend to bewitch public agents from a broad political spectrum. For this very reason, because this image is so insidious, it will be difficult for us to stop our fight against projects like the Future yourself and other mockery – projects that have in common the subordination of the university to some external and limited interest, to some unilateral dimension, either because they see the university as an obstacle, or because they see it as a superfluous asset. And even in environments that we supposed were progressive, it is possible to find an explicit or poorly disguised manifestation of some disdain for the university.

The university bothers. It would be foolish to turn a blind eye to this nuisance, whether motivated by complete ignorance of its strategic significance or by some kind of resentment. It is true that it began to bother even more when, as in the case of UFBA, it was enriched by its blackening and by all the other affirmative actions that broadened its horizon of possibilities and broadened its field of rights; but it also bothers those who, even supposedly progressive, are only capable of thinking about public affairs in terms of budget calculation and not thinking, on the contrary, of budget calculation in terms of a hierarchy established and agreed upon by the long-term public interest.

 

4.

October will soon arrive, bringing us just hopes. So, you need to be more careful. We will not be free from threats even when we turn the current page of authoritarianism and obscurantism, as it is not new that our society, authoritarian and excluding, negotiates to empty the autonomy of the university and compromise its support. By removing the ignorant, the prejudiced, we will not magically remove ignorance or prejudice.

In fact, old vices can assume the guise of new virtues and, under the pretext of valuing universities, can reduce them to a bank of service providers or a well-oiled machine for producing diplomas – which would be equivalent to outsourcing life university (sweetened in the discourse as an academic virtue and a pragmatic budgetary necessity), or to a reduction of its strategic scope, which is limited to what, moreover, private institutions know how to do well (increase vacancies), without the private institutions (with known and praiseworthy exceptions) seek to follow the proper, high and well-regulated standards of our public institutions.

The intelligence of politics usually lacks the slightest wisdom. Here's the danger. The appreciation of university life can indeed, with beautiful images and in another political scenario, be subtly associated with the lack of commitment to funding academic activity as it effectively should be, that is, with autonomy for research and investment in all areas of knowledge – I repeat, in all areas of knowledge, and not just those that may better serve the interests of the market, parties or even some more immediate public policy of the government itself.

October is coming, with its music, with its charms. May we know how to remind the coming spring that Universities are long-term projects. With a country in shambles, lacking instant answers, it is with all the more effort that we must avoid the risk of treating higher education as if it were a division of yet another problem.

October is already coming, with its joy. We therefore have a duty to warn those who may have the fairest hopes and in whom we will mortgage our dreams, that austerity measures do not apply to civilizing projects, that proselytism or budgetary cleverness will never fulfill the purpose of making talent and refinement of our people, our diverse and beautiful people, and our duty is even greater to extend to all, with quality, the right to a full public education.

The university is not a mere service provider, subordinated to an agenda or determined by demands for whose design it does not contribute. Otherwise, it would be reduced to a bank of symbolic products with no value in itself, once it has lost its place in the constitution of the desirable repertoire of symbols.

In any scenario, therefore, the fight will continue, and the University, now strengthened in adversity, ground in the rough, matured in resistance, will never accept any proposal that takes away its meaning or diminishes its future – this future of ours, in us present as a promise of a nation that is not unequal, but profoundly and radically democratic.

 

5.

We approach the divine through the negative. After all, what has not yet come to fruition must be our deepest justification, the university itself being a purpose and a universal value. Therefore, it needs to multiply, but never without the guarantee of its right to full maturity. Therefore, we will not be in a university environment, if vacancies multiply (as they intend with Reuni Digital) without guaranteeing in each new space the conditions for that defining and inseparable articulation between teaching, research and extension.

Universities, it is true, have different times. They mature through constant investment and, above all, through the expansion of their academic community. They do not sprout whole, but they cannot be stunted at the start. The marks of construction, the scars of its growth are part of a process, not a condemnation. It is therefore necessary to continue the fight against what I once baptized “Virchow syndrome”, that is, the idea that universities in the full sense would be destined for a few centers, with some inane structure valid for the north or northeast, with which the south and southeast could never be satisfied.

The rule is simple, and must be applied from north to south. There is no legitimate academic excellence without social commitment. There is also no social commitment to quality without academic excellence. And, in short, both universities have the essential duty to seek fullness, and our people have the right to full universities.

Expansion is required. It must therefore be a project and not a pretext or resource for proselytism. Authentic expansion is not, therefore, a mere swelling that, in the cruel Nietzschean formula, would deliver the poor to the devil and statistics. The university cannot, therefore, be a simulacrum of public policy, but rather a promise to expand an exemplary and democratic place for training – a space insensitive to the rudeness of barbarism, where good research redeems us from the icy marks of reason, where imagination frees us from mere calculation, where horizons and rights expand and where severe criticism, because it is rigorous, presupposes the encounter, welcomes the speech of the other and does not seek its destruction.

The University, moreover, should not be a stage for disputes alien to its nature. If reduced to meeting external demands, both their collective autonomy for research is compromised, henceforth directed by its application, and, as a result, the individual researcher is denatured, reduced (perhaps voluntarily) to the condition of a mere consultant – perhaps even with financial advantages, but certainly not intellectual ones.

This exercise in negative theology could go on for hours on end. I must stop. This exercise will continue to be done by those who now inherit all the confidence and energy of our collective construction, the strength of being UFBA, a certain UFBA, among many possible ones. We are UFBA, the one that recognizes itself and smiles at every graduation, in every cry and even in every article or book. We are this UFBA, present in research and assemblies, in laboratories and in dialogue with traditional communities. We are the UFBA of the turmoil, which boils in the streets and in the networks, in the academies and in the classrooms. The UFBA that will always say no to barbarism.

 

6.

This is my final gesture as dean. Still from this place, I now address a final word to you. I was able to allude above to what perhaps cannot be said – to what, in short, no word captures or preserves. Once the work is over, I know that, by themselves, scattered words can even say what is significant (this is what says how things are), but never express what is relevant, which touches our life problems.

Many words, indeed. Those who read or listen to them may still be far from realizing the energy that inhabits them. However, if language does not reach the relevant, there is no other way than itself to go beyond the merely significant. And, with them, I think I should record precise last gestures.

I've already emptied the drawers. I have already said goodbye to bodies, units, categories and groups separately, and now I say goodbye collectively, expressing my deepest gratitude to all. I leave now as I entered, with my head held high. Like my father Divaldo Sales Soares, who formerly served as land delegate, I did not demarcate a single meter of vacant land for myself.

I didn't make friends or enemies for nothing; I did not benefit anyone who expected blessings; nor did I harm anyone who expected hostilities. In this way, I tried to honor the position. That is to say, to fulfill the duty, which belongs to all legitimate management, of favoring our unity above all and of moving only in the interests of the institution.

Also, with our team, I tried to follow the good example that we built together and that, I am sure, will continue in this same spirit this coming Monday, of a structured management, in tune with the purposes of our community and with the highest project of nation, without ever expecting from our craft anything other than what is strictly proper to public servants – which, incidentally, makes public management, especially at the university, an exercise in making utopia bathe the institution with the prerogatives and common demands.

Rectors need to have a lot of this type of vanity, the one resulting from the obligation to represent the collective and the one from each and every gesture having to correspond to the expectations of the institution. Vanity is then in being more forcefully, in the consecrated formula, of all servants the most humble. The vanity is in knowing that a dean is only what the team with which we share the work and daily management can be.

I must say here, with all the letters, that we would not have any success without the dedication and competence of our entire team. Because together and mixed, we had no truce or even the right to innocence, while we could never or wanted to expect gratitude for fulfilling our duty. And there were no other secrets. Together we were aware that the management always brings us everything it is capable of delivering and charges us in full what we already owed them from the beginning.

I learned a lot. Today I am a different person, beyond the gray hair. As I said on another occasion, I leave this place wiser, richer, stronger and more honorable. Wise for having learned a lot from everyone, from each speech, including the most dissonant ones; strong enough to accept the strength of collective interest, which even leads me, at the right time, to follow another path; rich, and very rich, for being involved in the wealth and refinement of our people who do science, culture and art; and proud, even vain, to have the unique honor of, with my many flaws, not having embarrassed those who entrusted me, for so long and so short a time, with the representation of this we, this collective subject.

 

7.

There is no higher place. The fellow deans and deans present here will understand what I am trying to say, as they must feel the same. We are, so to speak, at the center of the center of our unique universe. And every dean, every dean, can only feel the same when they are in their house. In the same way, each member of the community, each director, each professor, each student, each technician, must be able to feel this way at the moment when they connect to this infinite sphere of knowledge and training, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference in none.

This is the singularity, moreover, of an association like ANDIFES, which brings together the leaders of federal institutions of higher education – and which gives us the immense honor of being gathered in Salvador and present at this ceremony. The uniqueness of our universities means that the strength of the association is not independent of their somewhat paradoxical situation. ANDIFES, as I already stated when I was in your presidency, is bigger than the group of rectors, but it is smaller than any of our universities. Understanding this apparent paradox leads us to value the balance between the need for joint struggle, our joint work, and strict respect for the autonomy and specificity of each of our institutions, which are the source of any legitimacy. My affectionate embrace to the deans and deans present here and my gratitude to those with whom I was able to share the management experience in these eight years, which are now ending.

Some of you may feel a twinge of envy at the possibility that opens up to me from now on to be able to express more directly and individually positions and opinions about this moment when, in our country, the clash between the rudest obscurantism and a way out democratic. I will not fail to take advantage (soon) of this citizen's right and to express, in another place and way, the position I have taken in defense of democratic freedoms and contrary to the absurd itself, participating, then, by other means, in the struggle ( that has belonged to all of us) in defense of education and against barbarism.

However, the country's situation is delicate and unstable. With this, the scenario may demand unusual manifestations from all individuals and institutions and at the rate of public emergency. After all, the absurdity of seeing the very conditions of a rule of law challenged is not far removed. I am sure that, in such a case, if an even more forceful manifestation from UFBA is needed, it will not fail to come, with the characteristic mark of our political and institutional resistance. If the manifestation of public universities is necessary, I am convinced, the harmony of our institutions will prove to be strong and immediate. If it is necessary to resist, there is no doubt, ANDIFES will also raise its voice. All of us, certainly, will not stop saying: Dictatorship never again!

How good it is to be able to say this loud and clear in the Great Hall of the Rectory of UFBA, with the conviction and serenity that our University Council will not repeat the serious mistake of yesteryear and will never again assent to a coup. Dictatorship no more!

 

8.

I leave now with my head held high and, moreover, very happy. After all, the success of a management is also on the ground that it prepares for others to continue to sow and reap good results. And the future of UFBA, I am sure, will be bright.

Future management holds the promise of many wonders. Even future discourses must gain by being freed from my vices of language and removed from my gongorism. They will perhaps have fewer “therefores” and “whys”, they will naturally avoid the profusion of adversative conjunctions, they will be more natural and beautiful. The strength and density of the institution, however, will not fail to permeate their wider and finer texture.

I now briefly reflect on this moment in which we move away and need to move away, my friend Paulo Miguez, making brief and grammatical considerations on the notions of 'saudade' and 'missing' – notions that we tend to confuse. It's even true: if I say, for example, that I miss Ubirajara Dórea Rebouças, Milson Berbert Pessoa and Fernando Antônio Lopes Rego, that means and implies, under normal conditions of use of words, that I miss them – in fact, I miss them. immeasurable.

We can note that, despite this common use, the notions are grammatically distinct and, often, it is important to separate them. Thinking about the rectorship that is now ending, it would be a huge misfortune for me if people didn't miss him or miss him. However, it will be a misfortune for the next rectory, if they miss ours. The misfortune, curiously, would come to be valid for both rectors in another combination of terms, namely, the case in which they would miss our rectory, but not miss it.

Philosophical grammar teaches us: it is necessary to separate the notions to arrive at the only suitable and desirable formula, that is, we hope that you do feel some nostalgia for our rectory, but not the absence of it. And I am confident that it will be. We all know that, with the current crisis, the challenges will be immense, but the new Dean stems from our common experience, from our joint work, and is born much more prepared to respond to the greatest challenges and implement the best values ​​of the university.

On the other hand, on a personal and most intimate level, it is also crucial to be able to separate the two notions. Barring better judgment, I deserve to be blessed with the same formula. I have a right to miss you. And of course I will miss all of this, that time when I was thrown, with our community, at the center of a history of resistance.

The longing has already started and will get even stronger, but the heavens will provide the conditions for me to be able, missing you so much, not to miss you; so that I can, with the memory of our adventures and the affection of friends, resume my life and face new challenges.

In this sense, chance, with its signs, with its wisdom, wanted the closing ceremony to take place on August 13, 2022. Today, my master and friend Ubirajara Dórea Rebouças would have turned 85 years old. I can only attribute to this work of chance a special and inadvertent symbolism. After all, Bira played a decisive role, around 1980, in my professional choice for philosophy – which completely changed the direction of my life. He was thus at the origin of a movement that finally brought me to this place.

Now, on this birthday of yours, your memory sends its signs and blesses this moment of farewell, confirming my deepest conviction about the path to follow. The memory of Bira makes me feel and appreciate the presence of the eternal, in the unique form of friendship, in the midst of all the precariousness of the human. And behold, it does bless the success of my firm and clear decision to resume the course of full dedication to philosophy, from which perhaps, some believe, I should never have left and from which, others know, I never actually left.

 

9.

Finally, I conclude, and in this farewell I dare to alter some beautiful Drummond verses – not to make them more beautiful (that would not be possible), but to make them more appropriate to the feeling that I believe presides over this moment. In the final two thirds of the poem “Memory”, Drummond is too severe in his affirmation of finitude:

the tangible things
become insensitive
to the palm.

But things ended,
much more than beautiful,
these will stay.

Thus decrees the permanence of finished things. With that, what ends remains, prisoners that we are of our unavoidable finitude. However, even without escaping the human, we grab something beyond the perishable – looking, who knows, for redemption or consolation. Therefore, with due apologies, I believe it is worth rewriting the last third and stating, like a false Drummond:

But the beautiful things,
much more than you find,
these will stay.

I will certainly miss her a lot, she is immense and natural; but I'll be busy enough to fulfill the obligation of not being a fault either, keeping the fortuitous but intense memory of some beauty that we may have achieved.

To be at UFBA is to be in a privileged and beautiful place, one of those places that allow us to feel the pulse of history. Now, however, I withdraw. Satisfied even, I believe, for never having given up when even some close friends made it seem impossible to win this or that challenge.

With all the mistakes, with all the shortcomings, with all the difficulties and limitations that we had, Miguez and all the friends of our management, we never felt the taste of failure. But how could we fail? We were together! How could we not succeed, even in the most adverse circumstances, in these extreme and unusual circumstances in terms of absurdity? And how can the next administration not be completely successful? Impossible! The management that ends and the future management have UFBA at heart, and that is the secret of our common strength. Who has the public university in the heart, everything can and will never fail.

In those eight years, I had the right to speak. I now have a duty of silence. I had the honor of representing this community in which history is made, and in withdrawing from that place, I have a duty to leave the magnificence whole and untouched in its proper and unique place, for it belongs solely to the institution itself.

UFBA gave me everything. I didn't even come close to repaying everything that was given to me. And from now on, it's yesterday. I return to my life, which, being at UFBA, is still full of charms. And, finally, exercising the authority that until now has been granted to me to represent and for representing the Federal University of Bahia, I can say, for the last time: This session is closed!

*Joao Carlos Salles he is former dean 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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