[News] Venezuelan University Law Creates Student Bill of Rights
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Dec 27 10:34:04 EST 2010
Venezuelan University Law Creates Student Bill of
Rights, Democratizes Higher Education
By <http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/jamessuggett>James Suggett
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Mérida, December 24th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com)
As students in the United States and Europe
protest against soaring tuition and lack of
funding for public higher education, the
Venezuelan National Assembly has passed an
unprecedented law to include professors,
students, workers, and local community members in
university decision-making and to eliminate barriers to higher education.
The law is based on the principle that the
government has the responsibility to provide
free, high-quality, public education from
childhood through the undergraduate university
level. This principle is established in Article
103 of the nations constitution.
The law says students will have the right to an
equal vote in the election of university
authorities, evaluate professors and participate
in self-evaluation, freely express opinions,
access university administrative records, and
receive a range of services including housing,
transportation, meals, health care, and monthly stipends, among other rights.
The law also establishes a series of university
councils that are to be elected on each campus
through a one-person, one-vote democratic system
that includes students, professors,
administrators, wage workers, and other members of the university community.
This includes a University Public Defenders
Council and an Ombudsman Council to audit and
oversee university budgeting and administration.
Likewise, each campus will elect a legislative
body of representatives called the University
Transformation Assembly that will work with the
National Council for University Transformation to
manage the changes to the public university
systems administrative structure and programs in
line with the new law and the constitution.
Currently, universities are run by a smaller
group of authorities called the University
Council which is elected in a system that weighs
higher authorities votes more heavily and gives
virtually no power to students or workers.
The new law explicitly upholds the principle of
autonomy of public university administration,
which is mandated by Article 109 of the national
constitution. This principle was inspired by
Venezuelas deep history of deadly political
repression and resistance on university campuses,
especially during the U.S.-backed, right wing
dictatorship that ended in 1958 and the
subsequent period of representative democracy.
But the legal interpretation of autonomy has
changed under the new law, according to
legislator Alberto Castelar from the governing
United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). He
said public universities will now have
co-responsible autonomy, which means that
university authorities cannot go and do as they please.
University autonomy will be deeper because the
new law increases the participation of previously
excluded parts of the university community,
according to legislator María de Queipo, who
heads the Commission for Education, Culture,
Recreation, and Sports in the National Assembly.
Yesterday, several student organizations
including the M-28 movement and student chapters
of the PSUV held demonstrations in different
parts of the country in favor of the law. M-28
leader Vicente Moronta told the state news agency
AVN that those who oppose the new law consider
education to be a commodity, not a human right.
In the central state of Lara, PSUV student leader
Erick Prado said, The student movement has
fought for decades in favor of a more democratic
and inclusive education, long before the
revolution came into power. He added that the
new law will help to democratize the university.
Meanwhile, opposition political leaders and
student organizations staged a march in Caracas
yesterday to protest the new law.
Diego Scharifker, the head of the University
Student Federation, told the Associated Press
that the law imposes socialism as the sole
ideology and does away with university autonomy
because it concentrates all powers in the
minister for higher education. Students carried
signs calling President Hugo Chavez a dictator
and referring to his administration as a totalitarian government.
Opposition marchers pointed to the part of the
law that says, university education is part of
the non-alienated labor that consolidates the
socialist model of production, and the part that
says autonomy includes academic freedom but also
must be exercised in accordance with the
National Development Plan for the strengthening,
consolidation, and defense of the sovereignty and
independence of the homeland.
Police and National Guardsmen broke up the
demonstration with a water cannon and plastic
shotgun pellets after authorities said the
students did not have a permit to extend the
march beyond university campus boundaries.
Central University of Venezuela (UCV) Rector
Cecilia García Arocha called for widespread
disobedience of the law and said the UCV will
initiate classes next semester according to the
old university law. This is the beginning of the
resistance, she said while defending the
opposition students decision to march beyond university grounds.
Despite the fact that all of Venezuelas public
universities already operate tuition-free and
provide services such as free student housing,
transportation, and meals, the tendency remains
for rich students to be admitted to the
traditional autonomous public universities while
poorer students attend the burgeoning Bolivarian
University of Venezuela, which was created by the
Chavez government and has an openly pro-revolution administration.
The passage of the new University Education Law
comes just days before a new National Assembly
with a 41% opposition contingent will replace the
current National Assembly, which is almost entirely controlled by the PSUV.
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