Student defender back on her job

The University of Panama’s new rector, Eduardo Flores, signs the papers to give law professor Anayansi Turner her old job of student defender back. Photo by the University of Panama.

Back on the job

by Eric Jackson

Officially installed as rector a day early because the specified inauguration day fell on a weekend, Eduardo Flores has been busy at a University of Panama that’s turning the page after a generation dominated by Gustavo García de Paredes. Eleven days into his tenure, on October 10, Flores got down to a bit of business that was one of the reasons why he was elected, reinstating Anayansi Turner Yau as both a professor of labor law and as student defender.

Turner, an attorney and law professor, took her job seriously and that quickly offended García de Paredes. The confrontation came to a head as Turner was conducting an investigation of widespread sexual harassment of female students by male professors. García de Paredes demanded to know the identities of not only those who had openly complained but of confidential witnesses and what had been discovered about the allegedly offending professors. These latter were generally men who owed their positions to being García de Paredes supporters. The self-proclaimed “Rector Magnifico” seized what files he could and left Turner in an empty office. Later he fired Turner as student defender and as a faculty member. He then disobeyed court orders for her reinstatement.

Sexual harassment was an issue that affected the former rector’s last re-election campaign. It shook up the campus leftist groups that had supported García de Paredes — they found women on campus unwilling to go along with that. The overall student vote went massively against the old rector but on the weighted voting system he got one last term. Turner’s firing was one of the main incidents galvanizing the MOVADUP university reform movement.

Such long-ignored campus problems as sexual harassment, falsified academic credentials, cheating and political favoritism will be big challenges for the new administration. It took Flores a week and a half to get around to reinstating Turner because his first two orders of business were to assemble a new management team — despite the outgoing rector’s decree that all of his vice presidents and other top administrators would retain their jobs — and to confront a budget crisis. On the latter score Flores — a physics professor — has submitted an austere budget that generally holds the line on salaries but frees up a bit more money than was previously allocated for research.

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