It is a mistake to believe that the university is driven by theory and thought.

Out this year, by EDA, The Forbidden Book: Totalitarianism, Intolerance and Single Thought at the University , organized by Gabriel Giannattasio, professor of History at the State University of Londrina (UEL) since the decade of 90. The book has a dossier format and revolves around the persecution suffered by him and his students at UEL. Although he specializes in UEL, anyone concerned with the radicalization of universities will agree that the climate of the university in Paraná is a regular sample of the climate of public universities across the country.

Let’s go to the first spark of the book: once upon a time there was this history teacher who had been teaching for decades at UEL, among friends and without problems. He was never remarkably conservative or straight: on the contrary, his favorite authors were Sade and Nietzsche. He carried out orientations, participated in newsstands and taught classes. One fine day, however, his master’s student, Guilherme Cantieri, had handed in a paper in a postgraduate course in which he quoted Olavo de Carvalho. The professor who taught the postgraduate course wrote Giannattasio a letter expressing concern about the student’s future because of such work. Giannattasio didn’t know the work of Olavo de Carvalho, but he read the work, didn’t see anything special and stayed by the student’s side. An internal lawsuit was filed against him for “lack of urbanity”. Cantieri failed the subject with grade 4. This happened in 2016.

In the collection, a report by Cantieri about his experience at the university is included. I must say that my perception is identical to his, namely: the university was an environment of subtle partisanship, which did not impede the human and intellectual relationships of radical leftist professors with right-wing students, and that has changed with social networks. Teachers began to monitor students’ Facebook posts, whether in the interior of Paraná or in the capital of Bahia. In other words, this tolerance of the radicals was based on an illusory trust in the “good nature” of the students. When the professors saw what the students posted (and who usually added it was the student, who also believed in the good nature of the professor), they started pulling strings inside the university to promote the hunt for heretics.

The second trigger, so to speak, was in 2016, with the appointment of the then councilor Filipe Barros (now a federal deputy) by the city council of Londrina to compose a Council of the UEL. The History department pressured all professors to sign a manifesto against the nomination of the right-wing councilor. Giannattasio and another colleague were against it, claiming that the councilor had been elected and the nomination was legitimate. After that, he and his colleague were sued internally for lack of urbanity and lack of decorum.

The extension project

To face the problem, Giannattasio creates the extension project “UEL: The house of tolerance”. The Brazilian public university is guided by the tripod “teaching, research and extension”; that is, it must teach classes, produce knowledge and serve the external public. As it is institutional, every extension project has to go through the internal bureaucracy of the university.

The project started at the end of 2017. The beginning was marked by the screening of the film O Jardim das Aflições , by Josias Teófilo. In this, the UEL seemed to be far above the federal ones of Brazil, since the filmmaker’s release for the non-commercial exhibition of this film in universities triggered an outbreak of beatings by the federals of Brazil (the most famous was that of the UFPE, but there was in At UFBA, the rectory denied the room to the olavetes at the last minute, claiming that it wanted to avoid violence. Result: they were beaten by the PCO in the open-air exhibition).

In addition to film screenings, the project had public debates on controversial topics. But the debates had to be converted into right-wing lectures, because leftists declined invitations to debate. The bigots were already moving against the project. A sociology professor was not authorized by his department to give a lecture and posters were torn off posters. After installing a camera, it was discovered that it was a teacher who was pulling out the project’s posters.

The thing exploded, however, with a cinematographic exhibition. In 2019, Brasil Paralelo released the documentary 1964: The Brazil Between Guns and Books. A preview would be made at UEL by the Casa da Tolerância project. As it was a preview, no one had seen the movie yet. But, in the minds of fanatics, if the film was “right-wing”, it could only be favorable to torture. Then a few hundred students gathered around the movie theater to shout and curse. An elderly lady who accompanied the priest needed to go to the bathroom and was spat in the face. In fear, the audience called the police. The police arrived, silence reigned for a brief period, but they were sent away. When the film ended, the audience, made up of ordinary Londoners, was faced with a corridor formed by two human cords, in which members of the administration and students were holding hands. The corridor led the audience to an exit through the ravine. Priest and crippled ladies had to leave the room towards the indicated ravine, under shouts and curses from a Polish runner.

It’s hard to think of such a Dantesque scene.

Corruption of bureaucracy

This was the icing on the cake. Throughout the book, we learn that internal processes, such as “impoliteness”, are mechanisms of intimidation, done anonymously; that student groups act in perfect synergy with the administration; that are always double standards (for example: the freshmen of History were received with a call to punch fascists, but the administration said it was “just a meme”; a professor promoted an exhibition of photos with exposed genitals, and the same managed to change the name of the extension project claiming that he called the university students prostitutes). The bureaucracy vetoed the continuity of the project and, before that, had prevented Gabriel Giannattasio from giving a mandatory discipline, accepting the accusations of the collectives.

The most illustrative case of corruption The moral of the teaching may be that of the teacher who sent audios via WhatsApp to a student like this: “You have reached the limit of defending these things that Gabriel says. Gabriel is lost, don’t you understand, girl? and you will fuck yourself ’cause he’s not going to get you anywhere, honey.” This is a professor addressing an undergraduate student who had started her scientific initiation with her and was about to defend her final paper. The veiled threat is that of future sabotage. Teacher contests are not marking x; graduate selection is not impersonal. In an area like History, many want to become researchers and academics. Academic life at the public university is an eternal faction fight competing for resources (I’ve written about it here and here).

Gabriel Giannattasio himself has become an outcast. He was no longer invited to boards and hardly any postgraduate program would approve the admission of a student of his. Studying with him becomes the certainty of a sabotaged academic career. So, the first time they prevented him from giving mandatory subjects, they created two groups, so that anyone who didn’t want to be his student had the option of taking the subject with a colleague of his on the left. Any student who chose to take the course with him would, of course, be cancelled, and with no prospect of having a career. The fear of cancellation was also a disincentive to participate in the extension project.

After that, they left him only with elective courses. Students do not take the electives out of fear and Giannattasio is, in practice, more or less like FHC during the military regime: early retired from the classroom for political reasons.

What to do?

The book is organized by Giannattasio, composed mostly of texts by those involved: himself, some students, Paulo Briguet (the local journalist who informed Londrina of the facts and later participated in the extension project), participants in the project… At the beginning, there is a small text by researcher Pedro Franco, who studies the problem of intolerance in universities. It “does not intend to suggest a solution”, but “a way for these solutions to emerge from within the university.” This “path” would be the Heterodox Academy, founded by Jonathan Haidt in the USA. A Brazilian Heterodox Academy should form a network of researchers with three objectives: “to make the academic community […] aware of the challenges [leia-se: problemas] that ideological polarization and the lack of political diversity in the academic environment offer to higher education” ; “carry out research and collect data on how these problems affect higher education and academic production”; “to develop theoretical and practical tools for the academic community to depolarize the university campus”. As for the first topic, it is obvious that fanaticism is an enemy of research quality. I believe that a teacher who rips up posters and chases students does not do so because she is concerned about the academic quality of the institution. And I believe that the term “polarization” does not fit, since there is only organized fanaticism on one side. As for the second topic, the problems reported by Giannattasio in the book will be recognized by any academy graduate at their own university. We don’t need to collect data to know what the problem is – and the detailed survey itself is impossible without the collaboration of the institutions, or with the climate of terror over the students. As for the third topic, I consider it too vague to discuss it.

Pedro Franco says that “if we have any hope of a productive debate on this issue in Brazil, here we will also need to demand and support the engagement of our scientific community”. In the same book, we learned that UEL thinks it’s nice to spit in the face of the lady who went to the university to participate in an extension project. So it’s good for Pedro Franco to lose hope. For my part, I don’t lose, because I think we can have outside the university productive debates. Any solution for the public university now will have to come from outside. It is necessary to change the policy of hiring professors, discard Capes and CNPq, end the election for dean and let the police enter the campus normally.

Giannattasio’s conduct showed that turning to the internal community leads nowhere. It is a mistake to think that the university is driven by theory and thought. The university is part of society; and, if it has been privatized by a bunch of fanatics, it is not an internal movement that will fix it.

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