When a Remedy Is Worse than the Disease

Ciego de Avila University decides to close down BA in English and French Language after a student’s statements to an alternative press.  Students protest in the face of this decision.

By Victor Manuel

The Universidad Maximo Gomez Baez (UNICA) of Ciego de Ávila.

HAVANA TIMES — The 2017-2018 academic year began on September 4th throughout the entire country, as it did at the Maximo Gomez Baez University (better known as UNICA), in Ciego de Avila. However, students in their 4th and 5th years of their English and French Language degree received a great surprise which has spread the island wide.

This university has been the setting for many events which still haven’t been clarified, such as the dismissal (for mysterious reasons) of the Dean in June at the end of last year’s course, for which students and teachers still haven’t received explanations as to why she was removed from her position.

According to sources, consulted at UNICA, this degree (BA in English and French Language) has been totally closed down under the pretext that “the university doesn’t have the means to cope with these students’ graduation,” noted Dalia Rodriguez, an employee at the university.

It appears that this action is the university authorities’ response to statements made by Ania Luisa Almenara to Havana Times on July 13th where she shared some of her thoughts about student life and the quality of the teaching-learning process in this department. Then, on August 21, a meeting was called with the current dean Celin Perez Nagera and the university’s legal team to “pick up on the concerns that were published in the press.”

An anonymous source (out of fear of retribution) who studies in the above-mentioned Department and is in their 5th year of study, and who we will call Toni, told us the following:

First, you need to know that language degrees are some of the most rigorous that exist. You don’t have to take an aptitude test to enter, nope, but before you can start the program you need to pass a preparation course and pass it with a 4 or 5 grade, if you don’t, you won’t be able to enroll in the first year of the degree. This means that the degree is in actual fact 6 years of study and you have to be very good in order to get in and then keep yourself on it.

If you finish the preparation course and get a 3 or lower grade, you know that you’ve lost a year of your life for nothing. They do give you the option of changing your degree. In order to study languages, you really need to want to, because it implies all kinds of sacrifices. Another thing you need to know is that if you mess up in one of the subjects during your years of study, you need to repeat the whole year, you can’t just carry it on to be made up. They invented this the year I started studying here.

With regard to the meeting that took place on September 4th in the department’s theater where these young people study, Toni told Havana Times:

The Dean, head of department, somebody from the Communist Party, the president of the FEU (Students Federation) were there, as well as others who we didn’t know who they were because they didn’t have the courtesy to introduce themselves. The dean spoke, she laid out the reasons that led her, with “great sadness” (a lie, if you could hear her thoughts, you would hear how she was laughing in our faces) that she had to end the degree in Ciego and transfer us to the city of Camaguey.

It’s true, Victor, that the degree is in crisis here in Ciego. I don’t need to explain this to you because Ania already filled you in with the interview she did.  You know all of the problems or, better yet, the main problem: there aren’t enough teachers. But anyway let me tell you that it’s always been like this ever since I started studying here, 6 teachers would leave every semester, then 10, etc. I remember that we, the students, were afraid because we watched how our professors would leave and the worst thing was that, at the university, nobody seemed to care about this problem, but us. It was ridiculous!

Students at the UNICA university in Ciego de Avila. Foto: cubatotal.org

Pure lies, Victor. Nobody cared about the problem, I think they were even happy about it. As you can see, this problem has existed ever since I was in the 2nd year of my studies, even since they moved us to the Education faculty under the banner of “unification”, which “was a great success” according to all Cuban media.

Well, let me tell you that in Ciego de Avila, at the Maximo Gomez Baez University, better known as UNICA, the English Language degree with a minor in French was an absolute FAILURE! And that’s why today, the Avila university is losing an important area of studies, because of the damn unification!

Here, nearby are the Cays, tourism, yes, and it’s no lie that the majority of these professors are working there, but only because this is what gives them money, not because they like it. But if you do the math, Victor, the Cays and their capitalist tourism, yes, because from the tollbooth onwards, it’s just pure capitalism (another story, which I’ll hold for another time), has always been there and there were professors at UNICA. So, what happened from the moment they ordered the department to close down and sent us to the Education faculty?  Why did they began to leave en masse?

I’ll tell you what happened: they “tightened the reins”, I don’t know whether that was out of envy or why that was, but they screwed them over to the point that they couldn’t take anymore and they preferred to earn better money in tourism than screw their lives over earning a pittance in teaching.

I understand them. After the dean’s speech, we were able to talk. But, that was just a circus show that had been set up, Victor, we were able to talk, yes, but we didn’t have a vote, because the “vote” had already been taken, among themselves. They had already made the decision to end this degree without taking into account what both we students and our parents thought. And they had the nerve and the lack of respect to wait until September 4th, the first day of the academic year, to drop the bomb on us, as if that was the most natural thing in the world.

You can imagine the tears and emotions there were everywhere you looked. I didn’t cry, it really isn’t the end of the world for me, but I felt angry and helpless. Hate! Because they had violated my right to vote on something so important to my future, and on top of that, they were laughing in my face. It was an ultimatum: take it or leave it (go to Camaguey or drop out). Believe me, that ever since I found out about this news, I’ve thought about leaving this degree many times, as an act of rebellion, and to have the pleasure of throwing it in this dean’s face just like a 4th-year student did. And the hypocritical and cynic dean simply said, with her stern face, that she was greatly pained by her decision, but that she couldn’t do anything.

Lies! And not only one, but three 4th-year students found themselves forced to give up the degree because two of them have health problems and they can’t go live in student residences. One had even left her French Language degree in Havana in 1st year to come and study English Language in Ciego because of her health. We told the dean all of this, but she only repeated the same thing: “The quality of the teaching-learning experience here isn’t satisfactory, that’s why we can’t do anything. The decision has already been made.”

A professor who had graduated from our degree two years ago and whose vocation was teaching was even offended, and she had all the reason to, when she heard the dean say that the quality of classes wasn’t ideal. And with tears in her eyes she told her that ever since we started teaching, English language teachers were the same people who graduated in this degree. She asked that if things had been this way up until now and nothing had happened, why this decision had been made now.

But, you know already don’t you? Because of Ania’s interview. Ania isn’t to blame for anything, but this was the excuse that I’m sure the ministry gave the dean in order to free itself of the “hot potato”. Moral to the story: “In beautiful Cuba, it’s best to keep quiet, even if things are bad, because they can get even worse or, better yet, they can make it even worse for you!”

Another view of UNICA.

What absurdity! I can imagine how Ania must be feeling. Terribly guilty. And do you think she should feel that way just because she expressed what she thought and tried to fix things?

These are the “human rights” we have here. They make you the baddie in the movie on the sly, not themselves. And keep in mind that there are people in my class who know about the interview and blame Ania. They haven’t read it, but they still blame her. It’s because of these kinds of people that we are in the situation we are in today.

Going back to the meeting. Another thing that affected me was what one of the mothers who was present, a teacher by the way, repeated: She said that as the university had given up so easily, that this was a defeat for the teaching-learning process and for the university itself. That as a teacher herself, whenever she was faced with a challenge like this one, she would give 100, or 101% to try and resolve the problem, but that she was incapable of giving up. The thing is though, Victor, that when you want something you can do it, but when you don’t want it, you look for excuses and excuses come a lot quicker than solutions.

HT: What are you afraid of?

I am afraid of change, now in my last year. Of walking into an already made up class, with teachers who have known their students from the 1st year on and who have never set eyes on us before in their lives and that, even though we have a 4 or 5 grades on our records, because thank God, we are one of the best groups to have studied in this department, which is something professors themselves say, not us, they won’t take that into account when they give us a 3 or a 2.

Let me tell you that there are only two groups of 4th and 5th-year left, a total of 26 miserable students. A handful. The rest have already graduated and the others are in Camaguey, as in 2015, the other dean decided to send all first year and preparation course students to Camaguey. This is another tragic story, as I knew people from 1st year, and I can tell you that today there are only 5 or 6 students out of the 15 which they sent that year from Ciego de Avila to Camaguey who are still on the Language degree in their 3rd year.

HT: Do you believe that the UNICA has the possibility to make good professionals out of its graduates?

The quality of our education isn’t what’s required, it’s true, the Dean is absolutely right, but… is it only now that they realize this?! Hypocrite! Cynic! It isn’t the time to try and fix this now. Does she and the Ministry really think that in a semester, because that’s what 5th-year students have left, a semester!, I’m going to learn what I haven’t been taught properly in 3 years? Of course not, whoever thinks this is true must be out of their minds. What they are doing, Victor, with this measure, is crucifying us. Because professors in Camaguey aren’t going to care about who we are, “they are simply going to cut our heads left and right” and this is what worries the majority of people in my class.

In the face of this situation, a group of seven students and their parents showed up to the dean’s office on Thursday supposedly to be heard by the university authorities.  The Dean said she would revise the decision made and will call a meeting with those affected after the passing of hurricane Irma.

One thought on “When a Remedy Is Worse than the Disease

  • “In beautiful Cuba, it’s best to keep quiet, even if things are bad, because they can get even worse”

    Thus the anonymous ‘Toni’ describes the moral of her story.
    Having described how the Castro regime controlled media reported that the “unification” “was a great success”, Toni discloses the truth that the University of Ciego de Avila’s French and English programmes have been chaotic since the Dean was mysteriously removed. But a fall guy was produced in the form of one student who made public criticism.
    So what is the Minister for Higher Education going to do to remedy this mess?

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