LThe generation of knowledge is a peculiarity of our species. Since humanity lived in caves, until today, knowing reality and generating explanatory and comprehensive proposals about our environment and ourselves, has been a constant of all civilizations that have existed on earth. In modernity, predominantly, the vast majority of knowledge that has been generated has originated in Universities, without a doubt, one of the great inventions of the West.
One of the main characteristics of universities is that of plurality; and in fact, this is precisely what has allowed knowledge to advance more and more rapidly, until reaching the impressive contemporary creations, such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence in the field of hard sciences; or the construction of new and exciting theories regarding history and our past and its present meaning based on the findings of archeology and paleontology.
In the field of humanities and art, enormous creative processes have been generated in the Universities, of a power that is sometimes unsuspected; but also, deep eyes and always alert regarding the abuses, excesses, deviations and ravings of the powerful. Since its appearance, another of the main characteristics of university campuses has been the study and critical reflection regarding political power. This has happened, taking as emblematic examples, from Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris or Guillermo de Ockham at Oxford, and up to the present day.
For Mexico, reflecting on these issues is more necessary today than ever, because we are facing a scenario in which there is open hostility against free thought. The most recent case is the aggressive and unjustified mention of the President of the Republic, regarding Rector Graue, for the case of Minister Esquivel’s thesis. The affirmation was: “the rector washed his hands, like Pontius Pilate, but of course he is not involved, speaking in silver, because enough of simulation and hypocrisy, right?”
Accusing the rector of UNAM of being involved in the “campaign against him” constitutes nonsense on the part of the Federal Executive. Doing so implies an unprecedented authoritarian aggression by a President of the Republic against the UNAM, at least since the 1960s in the last century.
It is clear that the president has an idea of the University as a “hotbed of activists” committed to a cause, and particularly his own. But sectarianism or unfettered ideological commitment are contrary to the very nature of a public university, and even more so in the case of the UNAM, where, fortunately, the most diverse positions and visions of reality still coexist, and where they must continue to do so in the times to come.
Universities are spaces where politics is thought and where politics is also done on a daily basis; and this, on a university campus, requires civility, tolerance and openness of ideas, the ability to listen and a commitment to dialogue that is respectful of differences.
Pretending that a university has a certain ideology would convert it, not into an open space for the generation of knowledge, but rather into a school of cadres at the service of a particular political group. And there is nothing more dangerous for a society than the logic of a single thought, invested in addition to a supposed moral superiority associated with a supposed exclusive concern -and also excluding- for the national society.
The most diverse creative figures of thought in the country have passed through the UNAM classrooms, which have also been associated with the most diverse and conflicting ideological positions, many of them even irreconcilable. But this has never been an obstacle for civilized coexistence to take place and for a strictly university attitude to prevail at all times.
Seen in this way, anyone who believes that universities may have a duty or a commitment, of any kind, in the face of power will be totally wrong. On the contrary, what would always be expected would be a critical attitude and a daily signaling regarding the omissions or errors that are committed when governing; but never the applause and even less, the militancy, because that is contrary to the duty of public universities and UNAM in particular.
From this perspective, a truly transformative project for the country would imply a university model that fulfills at least four substantive functions: a) train professionals and researchers, at the highest level, in all branches of knowledge; b) promote a large-scale editorial project that allows the widest possible creation, publication, and distribution of texts; c) have a powerful platform for scientific, artistic and cultural dissemination; and d) expand the offer and platforms of continuous education that allow access to the highest quality update and with the lowest possible cost for society.
In this logic, university work could be reconstituted as one of the most important mechanisms of social mobility and generation of opportunities for social and economic equality in our country; as well as an element of cohesion and identification, in diversity, of a way of being shared and committed to the development of the country.
For this reason, it is important to insist on the fact that Mexico is indebted to the young population and that one of the great challenges we face as a country is to guarantee universal coverage both at the upper secondary and higher education levels. That is why it is relevant to think of institutions such as UNAM, which, in the last seven years, during Dr. Graue’s rectory, has made an extraordinary effort, even with limited resources, to increase not only its physical infrastructure, but above all the number of students admitted to their classrooms.
Knowledge will always have to act committed to itself. And to that extent you should always indeclinably exercise criticism. Because the moment it bows to any political proposal, it becomes the legitimizer of the decisions of power and, to that extent, contrary to its primary nature.