Against the wishes of students and a large group of academics, the interim director of a prestigious Mexico City-based public university and think tank has been appointed to the position on a permanent basis.
José Antonio Romero Tellaeche, an economist, was appointed director of the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) for five years after a unanimous vote to ratify his permanent tenure, announced María Elena Álvarez-Buylla, director of the National Council of Science and Technology.
The vote, in which seven external academics participated, took place Monday. Álvarez-Buylla’s claim that the vote was unanimous was disputed.
Romero has been rejected by students due to his dismissal of academics since taking the reins of the university as interim director in August and his declaration that CIDE has become a “neoliberal” institution. He was also criticized for describing students as “sponges” that only absorb what their professors want them to.
President López Obrador is a fierce critic of what he describes as Mexico’s “neoliberal period” – 1982 to 2018 – and claims his government is carrying out the “fourth transformation” of the country. He said Monday CIDE had “moved to the right” and that the government’s wish was for “chieftainships” in academia to come to an end.
Álvarez-Buylla said Monday “CIDE is an institution of the Mexican state and must adhere to the new realities.”
After his appointment, Romero pledged to manage the university in a “democratic” way and committed to establishing an environment of “stability, freedom and plurality.”
“… It’s necessary to establish new lines of research … that propose … solutions to outstanding problems,” he said, indicating that he wanted to take the university in a more pragmatic direction.
While Romero said he was committed to democratic administration of the university, the voices of students and many academics were apparently not heard during the process to designate him as director.
Students have been protesting against his leadership since he became interim director, and occupied CIDE’s Mexico City campus and declared an indefinite strike after his permanent appointment on Monday. They also prepared a petition calling for his dismissal and launched legal action aimed at stopping his appointment as permanent director. They remain hopeful they will receive a court ruling in their favor.
“This person has a unique way of thinking and he wants to impose it [on the university]. What we’ve seen [so far] is just a taste of what he could do to the institution, that’s why we won’t let him,” Ramón, a student, told the newspaper El Universal.
“We’re fighting for a CIDE that conforms to the international and national vanguard, and to the needs of society.”
José Antonio Aguilar, a CIDE academic, suggested that Romero himself was not the problem but rather “the intervention of political power in universities.”
“That’s the central problem causing the CIDE crisis,” he said. If that’s the case, the interim and then permanent appointment of Romero added fuel to the fire.
A large number of CIDE academics and administrative staff expressed their preference for the appointment of Vidal Lleranas, a former federal deputy, over Romero. In an internal assessment process, the former achieved a score of 8.98 while the latter scored 7.29.
However, CIDE academics and staff, via the university’s permanent Academic Assembly, claimed their views weren’t taken into account. They also said there were other irregularities with the appointment process. One was the refusal to allow a CIDE academic council observer into the meeting on Monday at which the vote took place.
Academics also expressed support for the protesting students. “We call on the authorities to respect their right to peaceful protest,” they said in a statement.