Che, CLACSO and University Reform (I)

Erasmo Calzadilla 

Reforma Universitaria. Photo:

I’ve been reviewing a compilation of articles contained in the online book: La Reforma Universitaria, Desafios y Perspectivas 90 Años Despues (University Reform, Challenges and Perspectives 90 Years Later).  It was published in 2008 by CLACSO (the Latin American Social Sciences Council) with the good intention, I suppose, of promoting and stimulating reflection on that reform process – as momentous as it is “forgotten.”

What’s curious in this book — having so many enlightened Latin American professors unreservedly critiquing the difficult situation of the university in their respective countries — is that when it comes to the two Cubans who participated, it seems that the sole country where reform was completed and is sustained is in Cuba.

To give an idea of this I can cite the final paragraphs, conclusive ones, from the two Cuban articles.

Francisco Lopez Segrera, a person with several degrees and a member of the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, said:

“It’s true that in the storm of struggle intolerance was often produced in the political and ideological levels with students who didn’t share the revolutionary ideals and with teachers who questioned the ideal of socialism. Today such extreme positions, to a great measure, have been overcome.  The Cuban university today is coming increasingly closer to the ideals of Cordoba, which continue to be valid though partially unfulfilled in many countries of the region – despite certain advances.”

Now let’s now hear from Elvira Martin Sabina, from the UNESCO unit on Teaching and University Administration:

“Finally, as fundamental features of the changes in higher education during the revolutionary period, what are recognized are:

– The presence of the political will and commitment of the government,

– The active leadership of the university community and diverse social actors, as well as the expansion of services.”

Cuban university students. Photo: Caridad

Neither of these illuminated academics mention even in passing Cuban universities’ extreme verticalismo (top-down command structure), the hegemony of positivism in all technical subjects, the recent layoffs of educators and professors; the almost generalized political apathy of the student body that, on the other hand, hardly participates in the making of important decisions; or the mental control exercised by the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Party through mandatory subjects in all fields of social science, etc.

Wasn’t this precisely what the students at Cordoba and other universities of the Americas were struggling against?

If the matter is the repercussion of university reform in Cuba, it is indeed necessary to mention what was positive.  What was achieved was significant, such as easy access to people from lower-income families (enrollment doesn’t cost anything), but the once progressive changes have also slipped backwards and there are new problems that never previously existed.

Why do these intelligent professors prefer then to avoid the conflicts, biasing themselves? There must be powerful ideological and/or economic reasons.

On the other hand, this is not the first time that UNESCO and CLACSO have been so kind with “Cuba.”  Could someone explain to me what’s behind this kid glove treatment?

In my next post I will speak about the relationship between Che Guevara and university reform.

* Free university education is a double-edged sword, because the total dependence on the government is used to legitimate the right to intervene at will in university affairs, to treat it like an appendix, like an instrumental reflection of state policy.  


3 thoughts on “Che, CLACSO and University Reform (I)

  • “No system is worth having if it has to resort to terror to keep itself.”

    You mean, like the US war-mongering?

  • It took me a while to find it but here is a link to a post from Yoani about Nestor Perez a student who was
    “expelled from the university for collaborating on the new digital publication managed by Dagoberto Valdes”

    Thru terror is that they control people.
    They terrorize people into thinking that this could happen to them if they deviate if they dare rise their voice. If they even dare write what they think.

    This statement “Today such extreme positions, to a great measure, have been overcome” is false.

    People just learned to be silent. There are many silent voices in Cuba that walk like empty shells, hiding their own lights.
    The example above is not unique. I know personally of at least 3 other people who were also expelled from university education. Who knows what is the total number. Plus all those like me that opted to be a silent voice.

    No system is worth having if it has to resort to terror to keep itself.

  • Was there ever a “golden age” of the university? Obsensibly, it was at the very beginning (e.g. during the first centuries of Plato’s Academy, or during the medaeival period, when they were associations of professors, but not controlled by an administration (although I suspect the content of their course were controlled by The Church, just as nowadays in Cuba it is controlled by The Party). Universities here in the States are as controlled as the ones in Cuba; here, they are controlled by: major donors, by their administrators, by government funding, by politicians, by their respective boards of directors, even outside pressure groups. If a professor runs afoul of any of these groups, s/he will quickly be shown the door (e.g. Norman Finkelstein @ DePaul University)

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