Spanish rector's power struggle splits his staff

November 26, 1999

A Spanish university is considering amending its statutes to allow its rector to seek a third term of office.

Staff at La Coruna University are divided over the campaign

to allow Jose Luis Meilan to

run for a third term.

While the rector's supporters say he is "unique" and therefore irreplaceable, his detractors have likened him to power-

hungry Latin American leaders such as Alberto Fujimori, Carlos Menem or Hugo Chavez.

La Coruna, like most Spanish universities, limits its top academics, including faculty heads and the rector, to two consecutive terms of office.

Of the 300-strong ruling council, 154 members, including academics, students and administrative staff, have pledged their support for a change in the university statutes.

They point out that as heads

of departments are permitted

to occupy their posts three times in a row, there is no reason why the rector should not do so.

Professor Meilan, a former centre-right politician, has been head of La Coruna since it

was founded in 1989. He has been anxious to distance himself from the campaign, saying he has not yet decided whether to stand for the elections in a year's time.

His critics, however, believe he is actually the main mover behind the initiative.

Fermin Navarrina, professor of applied mathematics at La Coruna, is concerned at the implications for internal democracy if the campaign succeeds.

Professor Navarrina believes that safeguards such as the two-term limit are vital to prevent individuals amassing too much power in a small arena such as a university.

"If you are dealing with a small number of voters, it is all too easy for the candidate to offer something in exchange for your vote," he says.

Professor Navarrina believes the high number of temporary contracts at La Coruna, particularly among the university's administrative staff, means

some people feel obliged to

support Professor Meilan for fear of losing their jobs.

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