Letter from a Venezuelan Professor

I started teaching college in Venezuela in 1996, as a young Political Scientist my goal was to get a tenured position, following the footsteps of my Father. It took me a while, starting as a Lecturer and after several years of waiting for the budget, until I finally reached tenure. The system back there is very different, most of the universities belong to the State, financially supported by public funding, although legally recognized as politically autonomous, which makes it very complex given that the resources allocated are insufficient (not only because of inflation), and the legal framework limits their capacity for self sustainment.

 

When my Father was a Professor, his business school sent him to study abroad, he earned an MBA from Tarleton State University, part of the Texas A&M system. In my case, I could barely afford to pay for my doctorate, fortunately by the second term I got tenure and had the tuition exonerated for the rest of graduate school. When he started to teach, being a College Professor was socially and financially a very attractive position, it was some sort of a life insurance. In my case, it was pure idealism to dedicate your life to a career with less and less possibilities of making ends meet.

 

The university I know is one with an eternal lack of resources, where we had to buy the books so students could have references, not having a decent Library in campus was a tremendous weakness. We had to support our own administrative work with buying reams of paper, ink for the printers, and even carry our personal laptops to campus. Well, that was until we started to get robbed inside the buildings. Our normal academic life changed for many reasons and in so many ways: we had to subsidize the education process in order to keep doing our jobs. This inevitably took a toll on all of us, it was not only the challenge to deal with adversity on a daily basis, in terms of the practical side of teaching, but also the violent political environment within the institution that made it unbearable to keep doing something you actually love to do. Every advance of the Chavez doctrine had an impact on all us; to teach Theory of State, or Types of government or Political systems, in these circumstances, always left us with a deep sense of absurdity. Keep in mind, I had students that didn‘t know any other president besides Chavez, the theory was the extreme opposite of what they were witnesses to. I had students question the concept of Rule of Law by simply exposing any random decision made by the government.

 

The sense of frustration grew even more with the obstacles the government set at any attempt by the universities to pressure for elections, in our own right to exercise our political freedom. The last time we had elections was in 2009, since then there has been a blockade by the government that seems to have reached the rest of the country‘s institutions. The lack of elections, and hence the renewal of authorities has sunken the university, and with it, those who used to make it possible every single day. As I try to find a way to rebuild my life abroad, I can‘t help but to ask myself if it‘s not clear yet how the destruction of Venezuela started with the education system. It makes complete sense. Education is the key to resist authoritarianism. I just hope it‘s not too late.

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