opinion

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Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, Taking stock on March 8, 2004
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Panama Vote 2004, NY Panamanians honor Afro-Panamanian women, back Torrijos
Fisher, Scarlet Letters

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Prosecuted for dissent

by Miguel Antonio Bernal


Ocatvio Méndez Pereira, the first rector of the University of Panama, said in his inaugural discourse that 7th of October, 1935 that “in weak and small nations like ours, over which the clouds of imperialism loom, general culture, science and research mean, more than anything else, effective autonomy, personality and liberty. Thus I always considered the creation and formation of our university a work of the highest patriotism. She will constitute, in her own right, by competency and by international cultural solidarity, the most advanced lookout for our people, and the strongest, most conscious and most effective defender of our destiny.”

These sage words of the teacher of youth have been more than ignored by the present and past highest authorities of the University of Panama, who on every occasion restrict, curtail, limit or persecute those who exercise our inalienable right to disagree. How can they talk of a university and persecute the professors and teachers who disagree with the rector’s autocratic and authoritarian practices? The answer is given to us by the so-called “Disciplinary Committee of the Academic Council,” over which presides Dr. Omar O. López, the dean of the Dentistry Faculty, which by way of a note dated March 30, compelled me to appear on Tuesday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m. in the Deans’ Lounge of the Dentistry Faculty to “conduct an inquiry.”

Without getting into the abuses of functions and authority inherent in the note, as well as the flagrant violation of due process that’s being committed, it turns out that the “inquiry” is for having publicly expressed my opposition to the policy of persecution that Rector García de Paredes has unleashed within the university against those academics who have gone public with our opinion about the “Academic and Administrative Measures” taken by the Academic Council in its meetings of January 7, 14, 21 and 28 of this year.

A little more than a decade ago, I wrote that “I sincerely believe that the struggle against the political servitude imposed by the dictatorship could be eradicated to the maximum degree at the National University and this would be the starting point from which this country could not be set back more by the rapid and profound changes through which world society lives. For this reason I participated with determination in the creation and development of the “Movimiento Democratizador Universitario,” together with which we promote the necessary activities to achieve the dismantling of the top-down and anti-democratic systems existing at the university, particularly in the election procedures for the rector, deans and directors of the regional university centers.”

We are dealing, then, with a number of academics trying to rescue the university for the world of knowledge, of the seekers of the new truths, of those who are for dialogue and creative dissidence, of those who aren’t limited to the search for material advantages or the easy acquisition of titles and degrees. I have always defended, in all the tribunals and under all the rectors we have had at the University of Panama, the notion that if the university ceases to be a boiling pot of freely expressed ideas and becomes a museum of dead ideas, then the university’s spirit dies.

From my professorship at the Faculty of Law I have had to arm myself with patience and tolerance against the environment of authoritarianism newly imposed by the rector of the moment against the students and professors who dare to dissent and to criticize the policies that the university administration is pursuing.

In my 30 years as a teacher and professor and the University of Panama and four other universities abroad, only now do I have to confront a slander from the rector’s office, which questioned my academic credentials.Today they seek to do more moral damage with their attempted “academicide” than was done in the most frigid moments of the military dictatorship. Then they at least knew enough to have tolerance and the university spirit that’s lacking today, when I am once again persecuted as an infidel and heretic for exercising the right to disagree with the one who proclaims himself “Rector Magnífico” (thus usurping the title that only Miguel de Unamuno can use).

From Victor Hugo I learned that “the rostrum without freedom is no more acceptable than the orator without dignity.” If, as the PRD rector says, to the applause of the Academic Council: “Bernal has to be kicked out of the university,” it doesn’t surprise me that they have begun, by way of the so-called “Disciplinary Committee of the Academic Council,” to put into effect their authoritarianism that considers everything that’s not praise to be criticism. But in the face of their concept of the university, I will with dignity carry on the struggle for the right to disagree. I will punctually show up for the illegal and arbitrary appointment. I will in a scholarly and dignified manner once again confront the Attilas of knowledge, those who want to turn the University of Panama into a tropical gulag.




Also in this section:
Jackson, Constitutions and popular sovereignty
Bernal, Standing up to a university inquisition
Committee to Protect Journalists, Eisenmann's case
Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, Taking stock on March 8, 2004
Caribbean Community, Heads of state weigh in on Haiti
Panama Vote 2004, NY Panamanians honor Afro-Panamanian women, back Torrijos
Fisher, Scarlet Letters



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