Brazilian academics ‘gaslighted’ in swirl of policy rumours

Funding agency forced to deny scholarship candidates will be required to take an ideology test

January 15, 2019
bolsonaro
Source: Getty
Right turn: Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency has scholars fearing for their freedoms

Claims that Brazil’s new far-right president will force candidates for publicly funded scholarships to take an “ideology” test have provoked alarm among academics, in a sign of the anxiety gripping campuses since the installation of Jair Bolsonaro.

Capes, Brazil’s federal postgraduate funding body, was forced to release a statement stating that there would be “no undertaking” of the exam. It was mooted in an article in leading newspaper O Globo, which stated that “new measures are being considered by the Ministry of Education” for the allocation of master’s and doctoral scholarships to students at home and going abroad, including an “ideological criterion”.

“Also discussed is the possibility of stopping some scholarships already granted,” the article continued.

Scholars reacted angrily to the story, which was said to be based on information leaked by a government source, condemning it as an “attack on freedom” and an indication of things to come under Mr Bolsonaro’s presidency.

Some of Mr Bolsonaro’s followers have pledged to campaign against the “corrupt ideologies” of academia, and military police have reportedly confiscated teaching materials from campuses on the grounds that they contained “leftist propaganda” and “false information” about Brazil’s political history.

In particular there are concerns that plans to censor teaching about Brazil’s former military regime at school level will spread to universities.

Adriana Marotti de Mello, professor of business at the University of São Paulo, said that the scholarships rumour was “a nuisance” but was unlikely to come to pass because universities still had some autonomy in determining how they award scholarships. But there was, she continued, a deeper concern that policy rumours were being leaked by politicians with the intention of upsetting the university community.

“This is…intimidation, bullying,” she said. “They are trying to create an atmosphere of panic and intimidation for opposition.”

Another researcher, who asked not to be named, said that the opening weeks of Mr Bolsonaro’s presidency had brought “quite a bit of ‘gaslighting’”.

“The government announces something outrageous, throws it to the mainstream press, then watches it sink and disappear so that the media appears discredited. This just happened with a series of measures for the guidelines for teaching textbooks that were very extreme,” the researcher explained.

Academics have also expressed concern about the appointment of Ricardo Vélez-Rodriguez, a Colombian-born philosophy professor at an elite military school, as Brazil’s education minister. He was selected over the former favourite to win the role, Mozart Ramos, after Professor Ramos spoke against a controversial “Schools without Political Parties” initiative imposed in Brazilian classrooms with the aim of preventing the perceived “leftist indoctrination” of students.

Roberto Arruda, director of international student academic success at the University of Colorado Boulder and an expert on Brazil’s internationalisation programmes, said that it was “absolutely understandable” for educators to be on guard. “Academic freedom is a major concern,” he said. “We haven’t seen such concern [for] academic freedom since the military dictatorship ended…there is a fear of the government interfering in what can be discussed in the classroom.”

rachael.pells@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

Much of this would be challenged successfully In the courts because the threatened measures are unconstitutional. The real threat is budgetary: this government will intentionally run down public universities and most likely switch resources to private ones many of which are commercial profit making concerns of dubious quality. Academics can and possibly already do expect to be the object of scurrilous political accusations and to have their classes infiltrated by hostile ‘students’. Millions of Brazilians have been persuaded that public universities or hotbeds of ‘cultural Marxism’ Which indoctrinates people with the promotion of gay and lesbian lifestyles and “gender ideology”.
Much of this would be challenged successfully In the courts because the threatened measures are unconstitutional. The real threat is budgetary: this government will intentionally run down public universities and most likely switch resources to private ones many of which are commercial profit making concerns of dubious quality. Academics can and possibly already do expect to be the objects of scurrilous political accusations and to have their classes infiltrated by hostile ‘students’. Millions of Brazilians have been persuaded that public universities or hotbeds of ‘cultural Marxism’ Which indoctrinates people by promoting gay and lesbian lifestyles and “gender ideology”.
Much ado about nothing. I am surprised that academics take the content of this hoax as true. This discussion was triggered by a blog post by a not mainstream journalist in O Globo website. No source cited. No evidence provided. There are much worse real problems to be faced by Brazilian academics in the near future. The new Education Minister explicitly mentioned in his speech of inauguration that he aims to eradicate "cultural Marxism" and "gender ideology" from Brazilian universities. Both concepts are part of conspiracy theories and have no meaning in the real world. Most Secretaries of the Ministry were occupied by scholars of no academic relevance (like the Minister himself) but well aligned with the empty raging ideology of Brazilian right wing icon Olavo de Carvalho. Let us fight real rather than imaginary battles.

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