The assault on private higher education must end
In the June 21 edition of News from academia, Héctor Vera described the deteriorating state of Mexican higher education under the current presidential administration. Vera focused on the troubled state of research funding after several controversial decisions, such as the exclusion of academic staff at private universities from research funds associated with the National Register of Researchers of CONACYT (SNI in Spanish).
He also noted that the recent inclusion of Mexico’s top federal prosecutor at the highest level of said registry, after several failed attempts over the past decades, has raised questions about cronyism.
In recent days, things have shifted from crisis to general assault by the presidential party, known as MORENA, in Puebla state, where Governor Miguel Barbosa Huerta sent state police to take over. the campus of the Fundación Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) and froze the institution’s assets in a dispute involving the institution’s board of directors.
I will argue that rather than an isolated and admittedly bizarre case, it is an indication of the risks attached to the current Mexican government’s unbridled interference in civil society, which must be denounced.
An incomprehensible attack
On June 29, Puebla State Police forces, some of them carrying long semi-automatic weapons, took control of the UDLAP campus, one of Mexico’s top higher education institutions according to reports. national rankings, and one of the few Mexican universities to have achieved international accreditation. , both institutional (SACS-COC) and specialized (eg AACSB and ABET).
State police, though greeted by federal injunction, forcibly evacuated the facility, including students who had just returned to university accommodation, in an attempt to install a new board of trustees for university.
Police threatened to arrest the students if they did not comply, so the students left campus unable to collect their belongings from the residences, although they were allowed to do so a few hours later . This caused fear at first and later anger among the student body which was not allowed to return after almost two weeks.
I cannot focus in detail on the complex legal dispute involving the UDLAP board of trustees, suffice to say that the members of the board of trustees of the university, as individuals, do the under criminal investigation for activities related to another foundation, the Mary Street Jenkins Foundation.
UDLAP administrators pointed out that neither UDLAP nor the members of its board of directors were under investigation concerning the higher education institution. However, this problem allowed the governor of MORENA de Puebla to use an obscure state government agency that oversees private foundations to appoint a brand new board of directors and take control of UDLAP facilities and assets. .
It should be noted that the original council members were not found guilty of wrongdoing and that a federal judge had issued an injunction.
In addition, it was reported that the same high-level federal prosecutor recently appointed to the National Register of Researchers was involved in the reopening of an investigation against the UDLAP board and had been involved in a previous litigation against the UDLAP involving the use of brand assets when he was president of another university in Mexico City.
The university where he was president and UDLAP were once the same, but split into two different entities decades ago.
The deadlock at UDLAP is synonymous with problems
The assault on UDLAP cannot be ruled out as an isolated event. Although an extreme incident, the occupation of a private university by state police reignites concerns about a new state education law in Puebla that institutions private sector had qualified as dangerously ambiguous because it stipulates that the assets and facilities of state-sanctioned educational entities are part of the state education system. This has raised concerns about the property rights of private universities.
The forced occupation of the facilities and assets of a private university, with the use of heavily armed police forces, is unacceptable. This was stated by the association of Mexican higher education institutions, ANUIES, and the federation of Mexican private higher education institutions, FIMPES.
However, while these declarations of solidarity and concern are important gestures, a university with 9,000 students risks seeing its call for justice stifled in a populated country still reeling from the COVID crisis.
Given federal jurisdiction over research funding, private higher education institutions in other states controlled by MORENA and across Mexico would do well to be vigilant and denounce government interference in society. civil.
A way forward
It is not too late for the authorities to defuse the conflict, free the university from occupation and allow the judicial process to unfold without further intervention. The UDLAP should not be taken hostage in connection with a personal settling of scores or be used as collateral for the alleged misconduct of its board members, especially in relation to something that has failed. no connection with the university.
More generally, the Mexican government should recognize the contributions of private universities to social mobility and access to higher education. Some of the universities that add the most value to student outcomes in Mexico, Latin America, and around the world are private. This is especially true among high performing institutions with a long trajectory of excellence such as UDLAP.
Gerardo Blanco is Associate Professor and Academic Director of the Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed here are personal and not those of CIHE, the Carolyne and Peter Lynch School of Education and Human Development or Boston College.