Empty university

Image: Valeria Lazareva
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By MARISA BITTAR*

Regardless of succeeding governments and the demands of the teaching profession, the essential point of this strike is: who cares about empty universities?

After years, once again we are experiencing a strike in the federal education sector and a void in universities.

During the military dictatorship, the strike had a unique meaning. In public schools, in addition to low salaries, state governors, in support of the military regime, subjected schools to their political interests and did not open dialogue. Today, about to celebrate 40 years since the end of the dictatorship, living under the rule of law and in the midst of a technological revolution, the situation is completely different.

Regardless of the governments that have followed since then and the demands of the teaching profession, the essential point of this strike is: who is interested in empty universities? The current government, in the PT's third term, announces expansion of universities and investments in infrastructure, ruling out meeting the demand for a linear salary adjustment. Society, in turn, in solidarity with the people of Rio Grande do Sul, ignores the strike and does not seem to miss universities.

What sense does it make for us to suspend our classes, to leave our undergraduate classes empty, when, during the pandemic, the university so propagated the importance of science and the production of knowledge? Why can't we negotiate with any government without interrupting our work? It was through negotiations with the Dilma Rousseff government that we achieved significant advances in our career. If the university must have social meaning, what does emptying it do?

The strike in federal education conveys indifference and alienation regarding the delicate national context in addition to a narrow and corporate worldview. Why did the union movement not go on strike during the last government when our salary and working conditions were the same?

Today, we live in the context of democratic freedoms and the connection of society in networks. The impact of this on universities and education in general is impressive and contrasts immensely with the void that the strike creates.

The Higher Education Census (2022) showed that private institutions correspond to 87% of the total number of colleges, university centers and universities in Brazil, and are responsible for training 75% of higher education students, that is, around 6,3 millions of people. In this universe, the Brazilian federal higher education network serves a minority portion of the student population and yet, alongside state public universities, it stands out in national and international terms. This is because, even in the richest countries, public universities are not always free, they charge monthly fees from their students, just as in the North American case.

Having recently graduated in 1981, I joined my first strike as a public school teacher in Mato Grosso do Sul. Our salaries were very low for 40 hours a week in the classroom. We marched along Avenida Afonso Pena, in Campo Grande, to the applause of the population who admired and supported our initiative. In that context of dictatorship, the then president of the Campo-Grandense Teachers Association (ACP), Amarílio Ferreira Jr. and I, were victims of arrest. Afterwards, we built our academic trajectories at two federal universities, UFMS and UFSCar.

The democratic context guaranteed the expansion and strengthening of this system to which, at UFSCar alone, I have dedicated myself for over thirty years. As a professor passionate about teaching and a CNPq researcher since 2008, I consider it unacceptable that, despite negative experiences, the striking sector of federal universities continues to empty them and isolate them from society.

*Marisa Bittar is a professor of History, Philosophy and Education Policies at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).


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