Blog of the International Sociological Association (ISA)

Battle for USP (São Paulo)

December 31, 2009 25 Comments

By Ruy Braga, University of  São Paulo

On June 9th 2009 the military attacked the building of the Faculty of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences of the University of São Paulo (USP) with gas bombs, concussion grenades and rubber bullets. It was an event at once shocking and emblematic. It was shocking because the professors gathered inside the building of the History and Geography departments never represented a threat to public order. It was emblematic because it violated a school internationally recognized for its critical, reflective production, and so, for these very reasons, traditionally insubordinate to those currently holding power and their antidemocratic projects for the University.

Evidently, there were interests behind this violence. The governor of the State of São Paulo, José Serra, and the former Rector of the University of São Paulo, Suely Vilela, were aware of what was in dispute: two antagonistic projects for the University confronted each other in 2007, when the governor aimed to expunge the University’s autonomy through his infamous decrees. At that time, the action of the oppositional forces compelled him to step back, imposing on him an unquestionable defeat after a 51-day student occupation of the Rector’s building on the University’s main campus. But a reaction was soon to follow, and the armistice symbolized by the “declaratory decree” of May of that year has been slowly repudiated.

The creation of the Virtual University of the State of São Paulo (Univesp), which plans to massify the training of teachers through distance education (EàD); the illegal firing of a union leader during his term of office; and the use of the Military Police to repress a peaceful protest of unarmed students demonstrate the resumption of the attack on the University’s autonomy during 2009. The goal of the State government’s policy is to deepen the fissure that already exists within the University between mass education designed to train a semi-qualified workforce and elite education organically connected to companies interested in obtaining techno-scientific knowledge subsidized by the State. 

In fact, at USP we have got used to seeing “centers of excellence”, “labs of reference” and “millennium institutes” side by side with the deterioration of equipment, lack of resources, frustrated students and exhausted professors. On one hand, national oligopolies invest in given projects, ensuring with this their rights over the results of the research they fund; on the other hand, semi-private foundations receive large amounts of money, using these resources without being subjected to the rules of transparency that pertain topublic administration.

One of the main menaces to the University’s autonomy consists in the progressive submission of researchers to market despotism. Academic dependence is imposed, limiting creativity and innovation that is part and parcel of the scientific field. In this way, the practice of researchers is degraded and their freedom restricted. A new disciplinary regime of production and dissemination of scientific knowledge is being consolidated at the University that alone answers for about 28% of Brazilian scientific research. We find ourselves in a regime designed to subjugate scientific research to the technological needs and strategies of the current model of capital accumulation of the country.

It was against this project that some University sectors revolted again this year only to be strongly repressed by the Military Police. This is not surprising: such a project is incompatible with any form, even if incipient, of democracy. Not by coincidence, in the electoral college that decided on the three names for the new Rector of the university to be presented to the governor, the votes of the representatives of agribusiness, commerce and industry were equal in number to the votes of all representatives of USP’s non-professorial employees.

Moreover, the lack of participation by the broader university community goes against Article 14 of the Brazilian Educational Bases and Guidelines Law (LDB), which lays down the rules for Democratic Management. The second round of voting involves only 300 voters from 97 thousand professors, students and employees. That is, only 0.3% of those who participate in the University elect a person to the highest position in the institution. But there is more. Serra and Suely Vilela seem to want to further aggravate the situation: this year, for instance, not less than five of the nine meetings of the University Council took place in the Institute of Energy and Nuclear Research (IPEN). Since this institution is strategic for the Brazilian nuclear program, the whole area is strongly militarized.
This year the selection of the Rector crowned the lack of democracy when the governor, Serra, chose the second candidate on the three-person list elaborated by the electoral college. For the first time since the end of the military dictatorship a governor didn’t choose the first candidate. Since the soul goal of the electoral college is to reinforce the power of the dominant sectors, thus distorting the representation of the University community as a whole, there was almost no reaction against the governor’s flagrant violation of democratic procedures. Not even the top candidate rebelled, stating only that he was “disappointed”.

With the same end, that is, for purposes of centralizing power within the university , a ballot vote summarily approved a new type of USP professorship even though the juridical council of the University considered it illegal. In other words, we have payment agreements that were not honored, judicial decisions of higher courts that were not respected, the firing of union leaders, the refusal to negotiate with representative bodies, meetings in militarized areas, illegal elections… To accomplish its goals , the State government has had to violate the LDB, the law, previous agreements, as well as the rules and regulations of the University. What next?

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