Outraged students demand the reinstatement of their universities’ legal status. A prominent academic warns of the loss of university autonomy.
HAVANA TIMES – One day after the National Assembly cancelled the legal status of five universities, police officials and groups of civilians were already guarding the perimeter of two of them – the Nicaraguan Polytechnical University (Upoli) and the Popular University of Nicaragua (Uponic). These cancellations were followed up by the closure of another seven associations linked to foreign-based private universities, a move that generated further tension in the affected educational community.
For nearly two months in 2018, the Upoli was occupied by students protesting the regime of Daniel Ortega. Nearly four years later, the decision to terminate it was accompanied by the presence of police and civilian agents on motorcycles and in patrol cars, who arrived in the early hours and remained outside the campus during most of the day. Despite this, university authorities offered no declarations.
Upoli students, on the other hand, issued a statement criticizing the Nicaraguan authorities for “traitorously” shuttering a university that has been in existence for more than half a century, cancelling its legal status “so it would cease normal functioning.”
“We issue this statement with great indignation, and express our solidarity with all the students from other halls of study, who in the same way have been summarily deprived of the opportunity and security to continue their classes, as well as to conclude their careers,” the written statement read.
Similarly, the students demanded that all current university staff and directors be maintained, and that “our grades and academic records be preserved intact, without any students being put at risk for demanding their rights to a valid and quality education as our Constitution stipulates.”
Police were also dispatched to guard the main site of the Nicaraguan Popular University (Uponic) in Managua, as well as their branch in Jinotega.
National Council of Universities to oversee the shuttered centers
Five universities were declared illegal on Wednesday, February 2: the Upoli, the Uponic, the Catholic University of the Tropical Drylands (Ucatse), the Nicaraguan Humanistic Studies University (Uneh) and the Paulo Freire University (UPF).
The government justified the university closures alleging that the institutions “failed to comply with the submission of financial records to the Interior Ministry’s Department of Registry and Control of Civic Non-profit Institutions”; and in some cases because their “Executive Boards were incomplete”. At the same time, the National Council of Universities (CNU) – a government-allied body – promised they would guarantee the students’ educational continuity.
Following the cancellation, Paulo Freire University assured the student body that they’d be “preparing information for the CNU authorities about the financial, academic and administrative state of each department, and their sphere of work.” “With the information we submit,” the new university administrative body could guarantee educational continuity.
The Uneh also issued a formal statement that, despite not having been officially notified of the dispositions taken by the National Assembly, they were willing to facilitate “the complete process of turning the academic records and files over to whomever the CNU authorities indicate,” so that the students could culminate their studies.
In the case of Ucatse, which belongs to the Esteli Catholic diocese, they have so far offered no statement on the cancellation of their legal status. However, sources from the city of Esteli informed that the university had already been taken over by the CNU.
February 7 legislative decrees: Closures are de facto confiscations
On Monday, February 7, Nicaragua’s National Assembly introduced and approved an urgent bill creating three new universities: the Francisco Luis Espinoza Pineda National University; the National Polytechnical University; and the Ricardo Morales Aviles National Multi-disciplinary University.
The “Francisco Luis Espinoza” University will be located on the former campus of Ucatse, and, in theory, absorb its student body, under a new rector appointed by the CNU. The National Polytechnical University (UNP) will occupy the campus belonging to Upoli; and the Ricardo Morales Aviles Institute will be sited in Managua and continue the programs of the other three universities (Uneh, Upoli, and UPF), plus the Hispanoamericana University that was closed two months ago, while also taking over their campuses and facilities.
In other words, the six shuttered private universities are to be converted into State-run and controlled universities, in a confiscation of their properties.
Neyma Hernandez, who was studying Political Science and Public Administration, stated she felt “greatly concerned” that she’d now be finishing her career in a university controlled by the regime of Daniel Ortega, who has brutally repressed students who think differently.
Closing the universities “affects us greatly, because we know how the [public] educational model in Nicaragua functions, and the way they do things,” Hernandez pointed out. “We’re in a dictatorship that wants [the educational system] to collapse so there’s no more civic resistance,” she added.
Foreign-run universities also closed
The regime’s crusade against private higher education continued on February 3, with a new resolution the Interior Ministry published in the Gaceta, the official State bulletin. The decree announced the cancellation of the legal status of seven associations linked to private foreign universities.
The Universities affected by this decree were: Thomas More University, the Central American University of Business Sciences, the International University of Florida, Michigan State University, the University of Mobile Latin American Campus, the Private University for Marketing Sciences, and Wake Forest University.
As with the five universities cancelled by the National Assembly, the Interior Ministry accused the seven foreign university associations of not having complied with “their obligations under the laws that regulate non-profit organizations in Nicaraguan territory,” and of not having duly reported the make-up of their executive boards in their countries of origin, the donations they received from outside, and the identifying documents of their Boards, legal representatives and funders.
Hours after publication of the Interior Ministry’s resolution, the Thomas More University issued a statement assuring they had no links with the Thomas More University Association cancelled by the State decree, since their higher education center is directly registered in Nicaragua.
Similarly, the marketing director of the Central American University of Business Sciences told the La Prensa newspaper that the canceled association has no ties with their actual campus, which has been inscribed and registered in Nicaragua since 1993. According to them, the society cancelled by the Ministry ceased operating a long time ago, and the University was thus continuing normal operations.
“Taking away a university’s autonomy is like taking its spirit”
The unforeseen cancellation of the five universities can only have a negative impact on society, believes professor Ernesto Medina. As with nearly all things in education, “the effects will be felt in the medium and long term.” In the short term, we can perceive only the enormous confusion of those directly affected.
The academic leader also believes that the intervention of the CNU in these centers, “will end any breath of autonomy they might have had. To take a university’s autonomy away is to take its spirit.” This is worse at a time when the country is going through a profound sociopolitical crisis.
Currently, the public universities under CNU control “are totally absent from any efforts to project into the country’s future, because their principal concern is keeping people under control, quiet; assuring that they don’t speak up, they don’t think, and this is going to be transmitted to those other universities. It’s not that they were a marvel of social support, but at least they offered a space of academic freedom the public universities lack,” Medina pointed out.
As a result, the professor concluded, Nicaragua is on the verge of entering “a stage of stagnation, of darkness, that will have a price we’ll see clearly in the near future.”