public university on the move

Image: Anselmo Pessoa


Speech at the opening of the Second Virtual Congress of UFBA.


In May last year, we held the first UFBA virtual congress. In-person activities suspended, we then affirm the fundamental primacy of protecting the lives of our entire community of students, teaching and technical servers and third parties. We had the already frightening record of 16.792 deaths, and we said: “it is in our nature to be the place of knowledge and solidarity – which brings us the duty, the good obligation to resist obscurantism of any kind. It is therefore a civic duty that we now say to every member of our community and society: Follow the knowledge; do not follow ignorance, nor the ignorant. And much depends on our action, on our resistance, that the legacy of this calamity does not become an insane sum of authoritarianism and death”.

Now, the political and institutional situation is even more serious, the numbers are simply terrifying: more than 246 deaths, so that, even briefly, we have the duty to reflect on what sustains such folly, such absurdity.

Many are surprised by the shift to the political center of the country of an ignorance expressed largely in denialism, in expressions of prejudice, but above all in violent practices, offensive to the environment, to diversity, to the most basic rights, to life. The attack on public servants, science, culture, universities is really frightening. And we are certainly shocked by the indifference and lack of composure in top leaders, whose rudeness seems to have turned into a calculated and effective element of propaganda and empathy with their followers.

All of this should, yes, give rise to revolt and indignation, but it should not provoke us any surprise. After all, the presuppositions of authoritarianism and obscurantism were never truly suppressed in our country, and therefore it should not be surprising that a conservative and authoritarian sludge is now surfacing. More fundamentally, authoritarianism is constitutive in a social structure such as ours, whose reproduction depends on constant procedures of exclusion, with profound inequality and impoverishment. It is not by chance that the rejection of science and culture is part of this arrangement, even among the middle classes, who are often brutalized, favoring the impoverishment of the public space, thus dispensing with more democratic ways of building consensus.

Nor can we forget the very recent history of a military regime, overcome in our country without, however, society having focused on wounds and scars, and therefore it is not strange the persistence of groups of worshipers of the dictatorship, in addition to a layer of lunatics, who were so caricatured that they seemed harmless. Far from it. A lesson by Theodor Adorno is instructive, who, in a lecture in 1967, more than two decades after the Second World War, reflected on the return of fascist movements in Germany, in a dangerous constellation of rational means and irrational ends, when the irrationality of ends contaminates and distorts the supposed rationality of means:

These movements should not be underestimated – insisted Adorno – due to their low intellectual level and due to their lack of theory. I think it would be a complete lack of political sense if we believed, because of this, that they are unsuccessful. What is characteristic of these movements is rather an extraordinary perfection of means, namely, a perfection in the first place of propagandistic means in the widest sense, combined with a blindness, with an abstruseness of the ends that are pursued there. [ADORNO, Th. Aspects of the new right-wing radicalism. São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2020, p. 54.]

We would need to go farther and much deeper here. We risk just a few brushstrokes, perhaps provoked by seeing a previously subterranean death drive on the surface or by feeling the presence, precisely in public institutions, of a barbarism that we barely guessed. The idolatry of rudeness and, even more, the disregard for life expressed in the “So what?” they warn us, however, that the most abject horror is not far off. A horror driven by fury, which is an essential part of his madness and his method.


Let's move on to the conclusion. First, however, we cannot evade some essential points, such as the pandemic and the budget. Recently, Professor Luis Felipe Miguel wrote: "It is impossible to calculate exactly how many lives the sabotage of measures to combat the pandemic has already cost and will still cost, from the campaign against social isolation and the promotion of chloroquine to the lack of vaccination".

A philosopher of language might even enunciate important trivia. First, I might say, avoided fatalities are not fatalities. Likewise, it should also tell us: unavoidable fatalities need not always be fatalities. [Cf. RYLE, G. Dilemmas. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1993, p. 47 ff.] With this, I would draw attention to an obvious logical asymmetry, the political implications of which are very significant.

Indeed, it makes no sense to make non-occurrence reports. We can even see signs on civil construction works with the number of days passed without accidents, but, notice, nobody says the specific accident that was avoided. Asymmetry is cruel in our reality. We cannot say specifically what was prevented, but we can show a huge list with the names of those whose deaths from Covid-19 were not prevented. And we honor them now, simply, with the nominated of members of the UFBA community who could not escape this misfortune. Professors Agnaldo Davi de Souza, Elsimar Metzker Coutinho, João Alberto Hufnagel Barbosa, Maria Lucia Neves de Andrade, Paulo Rebouças Brandão and Thomaz Rodrigues Porto da Cruz – all retired. Technicians Eduardo Nunes da Silva and Jaciara Santos Oliveira (both working at Maternidade Climério de Oliveira), and Lúcia Maria Tourinho Bahia, retired. And the students Baga de Bagaceira Souza, Paulo César Alcântara Bittencourt (our Paulo Bitenca) and Welber Santos Magalhães.

In the middle of the second wave of the pandemic, there is a forecast that, in Brazil, one million new cases and 20 thousand new deaths will be added to the accumulated total every 17 days. Such numbers, taken together, configure a national health tragedy without precedent in magnitude and duration; translate enormous suffering and still keep the fact that, in the absence of major public policies, social markers increase mortality rates in the most vulnerable groups of society, helpless by acts and omissions, by disconnected actions and by attitudes that aggravated the transmission and they increased the number of dead.

Could it have been different? Yes. After all, we have the right to expect greatness and competence from our leaders, which should lead to an evolution that is more favorable to reducing the impact of the disease, and not a political management of the health crisis that, due to negligence or deliberate action, has been a succession of disagreements and disasters, resulting now in a slow and insufficient vaccination program against COVID-19. How can any leader live up to his responsibility who, in the midst of the full crisis, encourages crowds and misguides the population, when he should, on the contrary, be associated with all actions that allow a rapid vaccination of a large part of the population?

In a crisis of this magnitude, the only legitimate campaign at this point could only target vaccination and not future elected office. In this sense, instead of having subordinated itself and allied itself with interests that prevented the suspension of patent rights on vaccines, it would be up to Brazil to make a decisive gesture by breaking patents, fundamental to facilitate the production of vaccines in the necessary volume and at the cost feasible for low-income countries. It is impossible to imagine authentic leadership that politicizes even the receipt of a shipment of immunizers, but renounces the task of catalyzing the collaboration of all institutional networks, under the best inspiration of science. Vaccine, yes! And vaccine for everyone.


We also need to talk about budget. Everyone must remember that, some time ago, universities (especially those in the turmoil) were threatened and blackmailed with budget blockade. We live in moments of pure absurdity, when universities, areas of knowledge and managers were attacked even by the Twitter, the minister at the time (and not only him) not having taken the trouble to at least read the code of conduct for senior public administration, which obliges us to show a minimum of courtesy and composure.

Without mincing words, the budgetary situation is now much more serious. We have a silence from the ministry, which, while not being obsequious, expresses a pure and simple destructive politeness. We understand here by “destructive politeness”, which extends as a method in various attitudes in the field of education, a systematic use of seemingly rational means, but to obtain irrational ends. The silence regarding the proposed cut naturalizes, as if it were a climate catastrophe, the decision not to give priority to education or to protect it, thus leveling it, in a spreadsheet, to any other budget allocations.

Thus, the current proposal for a budget law does not provide for the mere blocking of resources, but rather the cut of discretionary resources for universities and federal institutes. In the case of federal universities, the total amount cut is BRL 1.003.423.819,00, that is, around 18% in relation to the proposed budget law for 2020. In the case of the Federal University of Bahia, the cut amounts to BRL 29.722.155,00 in funding and R$ 6.488.679,00 in the PNAES heading, in student assistance, with the most perverse consequences.

After suffering, over the last few years, a terrible budget deficit, with the resources allocated to investments (ie, works and the acquisition of permanent materials) falling to almost symbolic levels; after having been forced to practice reductions in service and maintenance contracts (which obviously resulted in layoffs by the contracted companies), fighting for such reductions not to compromise the essentials of teaching, research, extension and assistance, we are now confronted with the possible withdrawal of essential resources. There are no half words. A brutal compromise of university life is on the horizon, if this is not reversed.

As usual, the central administration will soon bring the entire budgetary situation to the attention of the University Council, but we can already anticipate, in summary, some data that show the seriousness of the situation. Between January 01, 2016 and January 01, 2021, accumulated inflation, measured by the IPCA, reached 23,7561%. Applying this percentage to the nominal costing value of 2016 (which was R$167.079.012,00) we obtain the restated value of R$206.770.479,67. This would be the expected value for the UFBA budget expenses in 2021, only with the inflationary correction. However, the amount of BRL 2021 is registered in the PLOA 131.107.306,00 for UFBA funding. That is, R$75.663.173,67 in relation to the inflation adjustment presented, without even considering the contractual adjustments provided for by law.

As our monthly expense with ongoing contracts in the administrative area reaches 7,5 million, this difference would correspond to almost ten months of these expenses, while the effective cut of 30 million already exceeds three months of basic costing expenses. Such a restriction, after all, makes it impossible for the university to function properly, compromising, for example, the fulfillment of research and extension projects, aggravating, among others, the difficulties in maintaining laboratories and field activities. It is, therefore, pure and perverse destructive politeness to naturalize the absence of choice for education, treating the reduction in the student assistance budget and university funding as if it were a fatality – a reduction that, if not reversed, will compromise the authentic inclusion of students and the provision of services by universities, perhaps culminating in more layoffs of outsourced workers.


Destructive politeness has other, well-known faces, operating in general through a naturalization of the absurd. Thus, it is part of destructive politeness to naturalize disrespect for the will of the university community in choosing its leaders. To this end, they use the letter of legislation illegitimately, as it becomes a weapon against the very legislation that gives autonomy to our institutions. Likewise, such politeness is present even in almost secondary expedients, such as the reduction of grants through apparently objective criteria – and this, we regret to say, often with the complicit consent of members of our community. As a result, “rational” criteria end up victimizing regions (such as the Northeast) or areas of knowledge (such as the humanities). This is actually what happens with the current CAPES distribution criteria.

Let us detail this case in more detail so that the meaning of applying means that are intended to be rational for irrational goals can be understood. Here, it is not uncommon for the irrationality of the ends to tarnish the means themselves. Therefore, a model is used (and the word “model” has great rhetorical importance) based on an initial quantitative, multiplied by the factor related to the IDHM (municipal human development index) and by the factor related to the Average Degree of the Course (TMC ), which, moreover, varies from 0,75 to 3,00 depending on the low or high average degree of the course. However, a terrible detail, the values ​​​​in the table of the initial quantitative used to determine the quotas of doctoral scholarships for the College of Humanities are smaller than those used for calculating the scholarships of the College of Exact, Technological and Multidisciplinary and the College of Sciences of Life. As a result, the result is unambiguous, but not at all odorless. To give an example, two UFBA doctoral courses with grades 4 and a high average degree, according to the model, will have a forecast of 45 scholarships for a program at the College of Exact Sciences and 38 scholarships for a program in the humanities area.

We have, however, a much more worrying and surprising situation; in particular, for involving technical interlocutors from the Ministry of Education with whom we have (and have the duty to always have) a constant, respectful and even productive dialogue. However, we received an extemporaneous and inappropriate circular letter from a MEC instance, also revealing a profound misunderstanding of university life. By such circular letter, dated February 07th of the current year, the MEC forwards to the leaders an authoritative recommendation from the MPF dated June 2019, that is, it bureaucratically resurfaces, a year and a half later, a moment that we experienced as a full attack university life and autonomy. Therefore, the letter is extemporaneous, as the motivation that gave rise to the recommendation now passed on has already ended, with the request that the directors take the appropriate measures to enforce it.

In order to understand the seriousness of the request, it is enough to take into account the initial postulate of the Recommendation, whose formulation is truly police-like and of well-marked ideological extraction, riddled with authoritarianism and full of ignorance about who we are, how we deal with the debate and how we produce good training and knowledge:

The occurrences of various manifestations of a political-partisan nature in educational institutions in Brazil are public and notorious, which often culminate in the stoppage of school activities; damage to public property; damage to the student calendar; intimidation of students and staff; invasions or “occupations” of buildings by alleged students and other people, as well as members of “social movements”, in protest against various actions of the federal government, etc.

The recommendation suggests measures such as the creation of reporting mechanisms or, if you prefer, whistleblowing, in the form of providing “physical and electronic channels to receive complaints”, etc.

The spirit of this recommendation, already in its origin, the MEC should know, is illegal and unconstitutional. Outright illegal, as a more detailed analysis shows that the Recommendation is in logical conflict with articles 1o. and 51 of law no.o. 9.096/95, as well as, obviously, with the Federal Constitution. And the unconstitutionality is also clear if we take into account that, already in the previous year, there was confirmation by the Plenary of the STF of the Injunction in ADPF 548, whose merit was the interventions of the Electoral Judges in the Federal Institutions of Higher Education during the 2018 election campaign . Thus concludes the injunction of Min. Carmen Lúcia, on 27/10/2018:

In view of the above, in view of the qualified urgency proven in the case, the risks arising from the maintenance of the acts indicated in the opening part of the present complaint of non-compliance with a fundamental precept and which could be multiplied in the absence of a judicial manifestation contrary to them, I grant the measure precautionary measure to, ad referendum of the Plenary of this Federal Supreme Court, suspend the effects of judicial or administrative acts, emanating from a public authority that enables, determines or promotes the admission of public agents to public and private universities, the collection of documents, the interruption of classes, debates or manifestations of university professors and students, the disciplinary activity of professors and students and the irregular collection of testimonies from these citizens by the practice of free expression of ideas and dissemination of thought in university environments or in equipment under the administration of public and private universities and servants to their ends and performances.

If it was already unconstitutional at the time, with much more reason it would be now, and it would be inappropriate for any instance of the MEC to send us such a recommendation, given the judgment of the STF of the same ADPF with the following judgment:

Summary: allegation of non-compliance with a fundamental precept. Electoral court decisions. Search and seizure in universities and teachers' associations. Bans on classes and meetings of a political nature and demonstrations in a physical or virtual environment. It is an affront to the principles of freedom of expression of thought and university autonomy.

Argument of non-compliance with a fundamental precept upheld. (May 15, 2020)

Does the MEC, by forwarding an extemporaneous and unconstitutional recommendation, perhaps anticipate university manifestations, anathematizing as party-political what would be nothing more than the free expression of our analyzes and knowledge, as well as the defense of the university's permanent interests against dismantling what's ahead? With respect for the best dialogue, we can only dismiss this interpretation and understand the letter as a complete error, both for ignoring the judgment and the Federal Constitution itself, and for ignoring the role of the qualified debate that is, after all, our element. A course that purports to be rational and technical cannot, after all, be subservient to irrational purposes, in which case it cannot reduce universities to public offices without intellectual autonomy.

Not being an error, it is only up to us to respond according to our nature, for example, by holding this Congress. With it, we took a very appropriate measure at UFBA, that is, to affirm university autonomy, remembering that our institution does not admit interference that compromises what is guaranteed by the constitution, so that, as a public institution dedicated to the common good, it claims to be autonomous and independent of the interest of parties, governments or the market.


Some fear that arbitration could count on the complicity of the university. They imagine a reactionary slime stuck to our joints, since, it is true, in the university we also find internal disputes, competition for resources, repetition, prejudices. Well, this retrograde university is not the one we live and choose. Yes, we chose, as a long-term project, to be the place for collaboration, words, arguments.

In this way, UFBA does not fall down. We will never be hostages to the absurd, nor accomplices to any destructive politeness. Of course, in the university environment, public space and logical space do not always coincide, but it is more than sensible to imagine that, in an environment of science, culture and art, the word takes precedence over other instruments of power and that mere rhetoric subordinate yourself to the most careful and responsible argumentation. We know very well who we are and, in our varied and intense daily work, there are more than enough indications, signs that, in an institution that depends on dialogue, the representation of knowledge must be stronger than that of ignorance.

It is certainly up to us to praise the university, not its mere apology. It deserves our praise, our benevolent look, because it usually and should be the place of resistance. And we must avoid apology, which, incidentally, can surprise us with an absurd complicity. Eyes open and far from innocent, we always insist. We are never unaware that, within it, competition (sometimes petty), mere repetition (often mediocre), manifestations of only individual or group interests, and not the common interest, can take place.

But this is only one of its facets and, we would like to believe, it is not its most authentic and true face. By our actions, we know very well that our truth lies in collaboration, in the expansion of rights, in creativity. Science, culture and art are made here, so that we can only resist those who want to push us towards barbarism. Let us therefore continue to be what we have been, a collective fabric, a community that asserts itself as a natural place of resistance to obscurantism and authoritarianism. Therefore, let the path of reflection be opened and that our UFBA fully express itself in our Congress, as a space of resistance and affirmation of life and democracy. After all, laden with knowledge, struggles, races, genders and history, UFBA guards, when whole and at its best, the immense strength and size of an earth angel who thinks, works, dances and dreams.

*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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