President López Obrador renewed his attack on the National Autonomous University (UNAM) on Thursday, accusing the prestigious institution of becoming a bastion of right-wing views and asserting that some of its professors supported previous corrupt governments.
Asked at his morning press conference about UNAM’s dealings with United States medical technology company Arrayit Corporation, which is accused of fraud, López Obrador launched into a broadside against his alma mater.
“I’m very interested in this extremely important institution … continuing to be a great institution,” he began.
“… It reached an extreme in which the majority of professors were applauders of the regime of corruption, I’m talking about social sciences,” López Obrador said. “[The university] was inundated by rightism,” the president charged.
López Obrador also accused UNAM of using its budget to “reward people,” asserting that “special institutes were created for them” and “a kind of golden bureaucracy” was created. “And the subject teachers earned very little,” he added.
López Obrador’s attack on UNAM, where he studied political science in the 1970s before submitting his thesis and graduating in 1987, came seven months after he accused the university of becoming “individualistic” during what he describes as the nation’s 36-year neoliberal period from 1982 to 2018.
He has also previously accused the university of lurching to the right and becoming a defender of neoliberalism, which he blames for all manner of problems in Mexico.
In a rare split with the president, the ruling Morena party’s leader in the Senate presented a different view, saying that the majority of academics he knows, including those in the UNAM Law Faculty where he studied, are leftists who didn’t support corrupt, neoliberal past governments.
“I have friends and colleagues who are professors … and the majority are progressive, they’re from the left and they voted for us,” Ricardo Monreal said. “… I spend time with them and speak to them. We exchange points of view.”
Monreal, who has presidential aspirations, said he wasn’t aware of the existence of a “golden bureaucracy” at UNAM.
“[The president] will have his evidence to support that but I defend the institution,” the senator said. “… The institution is one of the best in the world, … it has educated exceptional professionals, men and women in all branches of science and professional life.”
Arturo Erdély, a mathematician and UNAM academic for over 25 years, told the newspaper El Universal that AMLO’s aim in criticizing the university is to influence the process to elect a new rector, which is scheduled to take place in 2023.
“What he’s seeking is clear: to have an influence on the succession of the rector,” he said.
“[Just] as he wants to have a bearing on the National Electoral Institute [INE] and the Supreme Court justices, he … [also wants to] get involved in the renewal of the UNAM rectorship,” Erdély said.
He charged that all institutions that “still have a whiff of autonomy” annoy the president, who has sought to disband or overhaul some such bodies, including the INE. “That’s why [he makes] his attacks,” Erdély said.
The national president of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), AMLO’s former party, has a similar view.
“These criticisms against the university are links in his chain of attacks against everything that smacks of free thought and freedom of expression,” Jesús Zambrano said.
He also claimed that López Obrador has forgotten what UNAM meant to him. “Andrés Manuel … acts like an oaf and is ungrateful to his alma mater that put up with him as a terrible student for years,” Zambrano said.
Since the start of his presidency, the president has been critical of the university, the PRD chief said, adding that he wasn’t aware of the basis of his claim that it has lurched to the right.
Zambrano suggested that AMLO wants UNAM to be another “extension” of Morena, which he founded.
“What he’s seeking is to align it with a form of totalitarian thought and for it to stop being … a receptacle of universal thought,” he said.
Manuel Añorve Baños, an Institutional Revolutionary Party senator, said López Obrador’s attacks on UNAM are excessive and senseless and suggested that he was trying to divert attention.
“President López Obrador is very annoyed by the barrage of criticism from the health sector, doctors’ associations, due to the hiring of Cuban doctors,” he said.
Luis de la Barreda Solórzano, a UNAM academic and former head of the Mexico City Human Rights Commission, said the president’s accusations against the university are strange given that it’s his alma mater.
“These positions have a psychological explanation a lot of the time. I don’t know if … [his] bitterness has to do with him taking 14 years to get a degree that’s normally obtained in four or five years,” he said.
De la Barreda added that the president wouldn’t be such a harsh critic of UNAM if he took the time to read the work of its academics.
“He’s had little time to read, which is noticeable when you listen to him. Listening to him for a few minutes is enough to understand that he has little time to read. If he had read articles, essays, books by the UNAM professors he wouldn’t have made an accusation like that he made on Thursday,” he said.
With reports from El Universal