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    Students protest sign reads, "Fight against the coup. Bolsonaro out. Free Lula. Free all political prisoners. Down with electoral fraud." | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 May 2019

A new decree gives the president or his delegates academic and administrative power over federal universities.

President Jair Bolsonaro's administration published a decree on May 15 which allows the executive branch to veto nominations for university authorities, a decision which destroys, in practice, the autonomy that Brazilian public universities have to exercise independent control over their day-to-day operations and curriculum.

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Bolsonaro's decree, which goes into effect on July 25, establishes that the president, or his delegates, has authority to appoint university officials, who are currently appointed or elected by their academic communities.

Up to now, each public university sends a list of three nominees for the position of rector to the Brazilian president. Although the president is not legally obliged to choose someone, the person who received the most votes from students, officials, and professors has traditionally become appointed to lead the institution.

In a meeting held with the National Association of Authorities from Federal Higher Education Institutions (Andifes), the Education Ministry's executive secretary Antonio Paulo Vogel minimized the implications of Bolsonaro's decree. According to him, this regulation would not change the election of authorities, regulating only what happens in the appointment process.

Nevertheless, his explanation did not convince professors, researchers, and students, all of whom will organize a new nationwide strike in defense of education on May 30.

"It's a retaliation for the mega protests. Bolsonaro's unconstitutional decree offends the autonomy of universities. The Legislative and Judicial branches must react," said Fernando Haddad, the Workers' Party 2018 presidential candidate, who also served as Education Minister in President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva administration in 2005.

"He supported Bolsonaro in the presidential campaign carried out in the universities. Later he entered the master's degree program in chemistry and discovered that the government eliminated scholarships expected to be delivered this month. His love for the captain was quickly over. Life as it is." The banner reads, "His government is bedlam."

The Brazilian government's decision also seems to address Bolsonaro's accusations that public universities have been “taken over by the left".

The decree "establishes a system to investigate, with the assistance of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN), the background of public office candidates, such as federal universities deans and directors," local media UIO reported and added that "the decree does not explain what exactly will be investigated, nor what criteria may disqualify a candidate."

Catarina de Almeida Santos, a professor at the University of Brasilia, believes the new decree is designed to allow arbitrary decisions because current federal legislation is enough to prohibit people who have committed illegal acts from taking academic positions.

Participation in political parties, social movements or unions, she foresees, could be used so that any "general or president can say if someone can or cannot be a candidate for a certain position."

Fernando Cassio, professor at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC), argues that the decree violates constitutional provisions related to academic and administrative autonomy.

"It is clearly a violation of the Federal Constitution's Article 207," he told UOL and explained that Bolsonaro's decree takes away qualities from the rector.

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