Sit-ins delay rector vote

August 18, 2006

The University of Buenos Aires, the most important state university in Argentina, is reaching breaking point after five attempts to elect a new rector have been frustrated by student sit-ins.

The university, which has 360,000 full and part-time students, has been operating without a rector since May. An!bal Franco, the vice-rector, has been nominally in charge but he has been able to authorise only 150 of the most urgent university regulations from a backlog of 2,000 that require the rector's or vice-rector's approval before they can come into force.

The outstanding regulations affect every aspect of the university's day-to-day running, including renewal of teaching contracts, student scholarships, appointment of new professors and allocation of funds to faculties. They also affect more long-term issues, such as reform of the student foundation year, infrastructure improvements and an expansion of information technology.

The university's governing body has not named any new senior officials to help the vice-rector with his work, exacerbating the backlog. The institution has also not been able to negotiate its budget with the Government and faces financial problems as a result.

Dr Franco said: "In the absence of leadership, the budget shortages have mounted up. With a deficit of 100 million pesos (£17 million), funds are available to continue functioning until October only.

"After more than two months, and an accumulation of regulations that need to be dealt with, additional university officials are urgently needed to help with the administration."

The university's paralysis is a result of infighting among students and academics to appoint the new rector. The University Federation of Buenos Aires, the main left-wing student group, has prevented the university's electoral council from meeting by holding sit-ins to stop the election of Dr Franco as rector. The federation is backing Alfredo Buzzi, dean of the medicine faculty, and does not want the council to meet for fear it would elect Dr Franco.

Romina Gutiérrez, a law student, said: "The university is being reduced to a laughing stock. The UFBA's leadership has not been properly elected, and it does not necessarily represent the students' interests."

The governing body has not set a new date to elect a rector. But some faculty deans want the police to step in to prevent more sit-ins.

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