University Reform Without Autonomy / Dimas Castellano

On the 50th anniversary of the University Reform enacted in January 1962, the newspaper Granma published on Monday, January 9, 2012, an article entitled University and Society by Armando Hart Dávalos, in which he proposes that “after the triumph of the Revolution university reform was essential to realizing the final link between the university and the people and the new national socio-economic reality … “

In the article he omits the most significant: the history that led to the loss of University Autonomy as the nerve center of civil society. This simplification of the antecedents allows Hart to confer a definitive character on the reform of 1962, as if social processes have a point of closure.

Jose Ortega y Gasset, in Mission of the University and other related essays, declared: “Man inherently belongs to a generation and every generation is not installed in any place, but with great precision on the previous. This means that it is forced live up to the times and especially to the height of the ideas of the time.”

Between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Father José Agustín Caballero, Tomás Romay Chacón, Félix Varela, José de la Luz y Caballero, José Martí and Enrique José Varona, among many others, made strenuous efforts to situate education at the height of its times. It follows that education reform is an ongoing process that does not support “definitive” and that from this continuity emerged University Autonomy as unavoidable necessity of modernism.

In the Republic, Carlos de la Torre, in his inaugural speech as Rector of the University of Havana in 1921, outlined a program to reform the university and achieve University Autonomy, which for him was: “to authorize the University to manage in all its affairs in full independence, except as regards the management of its funds.” The following year the Rector of the University of Buenos Aires, Joseph Maples, gave a lecture on “the evolution of Argentine universities,” in which he explained the process begun with the manifesto of Cordoba, 1918, which led to a university reform whose centerpiece was the autonomy and the involvement of students in university government.

In this context a group of Cuban students published a manifesto in which they called for the formation of student association, which was founded in December 1922 under the name of Federation of University Students (FEU). Subsequently, on January 10, 1923, the fledgling federation issued the Document of the University Reform Program in Cuba, which called for “The status of the university and its autonomy in economic and educational matters.” To remedy the situation, Enrique Jose Varona proposed creating a commission composed of professors and students to study the project, which upon acceptance led to the establishment of the Joint Commission, composed of the Rector, teachers and members of the FEU and recognized by Presidential Decree.

The project was analyzed by the Joint Commission, the Rector, the Board, teachers and students who went to the Presidential Palace and submitted to President Alfredo Zayas, the bases of the bill for University Autonomy. Zayas, before the force of the reform movement, legally recognized the FEU and authorized the creation of the University Assembly, composed of professors, graduates and students. The advance led reform in October 1923, at the First National Student Congress, which demanded the repeal of the Platt Amendment and agreed to establish the José Martí Popular University to open the doors of the higher educational establishment to the workers.

During the government of Gerardo Machado the University Assembly was dissolved and the FEU outlawed, but the struggle continued. Finally on September 10, 1933, after the fall of Machado, the Government of the Hundred Days, led by Ramon Grau San Martin issued Decree Law 2059 of October 1933, which enacted University Autonomy. Subsequently, the failure of the March 1935 strike, the University was taken over militarily and the government revoked the autonomy.

In 1939, under President Federico Laredo Bru, University Autonomy was restored and the Constituent Assembly was convened which adopted and drafted the Constitution of 1940, which, in Article 53, upheld the constitutionality of the Autonomous University as follows: “The University of Havana is autonomous and shall be governed in accordance with its Statutes and the Law by which they will be tempered.” Thanks to this they could form the forces that faced the military coup of 1952, though Fulgencio Batista overthrew the dangerous University Autonomy with the repeal of the Constitution of 1940.

In January 1959, rather than the promise of restoring the 1940 Constitution, as we read in History Will Absolve Me, it was reformed, without consultation, to confer to the Prime Minister the powers of Head of Government and to the Council of Ministers functions of Congress, an amendment similar to what Batista had done with the statutes that replaced the constitution after the 1952 coup. It then proceeded to dismantle civil society and all its instruments, including the University Autonomy.

To accomplish this, the Supreme Council of Universities was created, made up of professors and students from three universities in the country and government representatives. This Council developed the draft University Reform presented on January 10, 1962. That same year, the Cuban Communist leader, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, in an article published in the press, stated that the new university would be governed jointly by teachers and students, but said, “to the extent that the university revolution is the work of a real revolution and that socialism presides over the transformations, we can not think of teachers and students as two opposing groups… A professor of revolutionary consciousness, guided by Marxism-Leninism and a member of that ideology for years [he was referring to Juan Marinello], will have no need of the watchful presence of students with him in the governance of the University, because he will have the maturity to approach problems of higher education with certain criteria. “

Thus, University Autonomy, without having been lawfully repealed, in fact ceased to exist. Since then the University, one of the most important sources of social change in our history, was rendered inoperable for that purpose. One of its worst consequences is that under such control, the State raised the slogan of “The University is for the revolutionaries,” which resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of students and teachers who did not share the ideology of the system.

The result could be no other. With the intention of giving finality to a changing process, the University, with the loss of autonomy, ceased to be nerve center of civil society. Therefore, the changes that are taking place in the economy have to be complemented by changes in the rights and freedoms, including University Autonomy, which is an inescapable necessity to put the University in step with the times.

(Published in Diario de Cuba on Monday, January 16, 2012:ía)

January 20 2012