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Salutation to the New Presidency, by Sérgio Adorno (on behalf of the University Council) – January 25, 2014

by Richard Meckien - published Feb 14, 2014 03:55 PM - - last modified Feb 14, 2014 03:59 PM
Rights: Carlos Malferrari (translator)

Honorable governor of the state of São Paulo, Dr. Geraldo Alckmin;

Honorable vice-governor of the state of São Paulo, Dr. Alberto Goldman;

Honorable assistant secretary for Economic Development, Science and Technology of the state of São Paulo, Dr. Nelson Baeta Neves Filho;

Honorable minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Dr. Marco Antonio Raupp, in whose name I greet ministers, legislative representatives, secretaries of State and members of the political class present at this ceremony;

Honorable mayor of the city of São Paulo, Prof. Dr. Fernando Haddad;

Honorable president of the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), Prof. Dr. Celso Lafer, in whose name I greet officials from all academic support agencies, presidents of universities present at this ceremony, former presidents and all professors emeritus of the University of São Paulo;

Honorable professor Hélio Nogueira da Cruz, acting vice-president of the University of São Paulo;

Honorable professor Dr. Marco Antonio Zago, president of the University of São Paulo;

Honorable professor Dr. Vahan Agopyan, vice-president of the University of São Paulo;

Honorable ladies and gentlemen, members of USP’s University Council;

Dear teachers, students, staff, family, friends and all those attending this ceremony:


On behalf of the University Council, I salute the new elected presidency, appointed by the state governor for the 2014-2018 term, at this very special moment. The induction of new university leaders is always a turning point. It behooves us to reflect on the advances that have been made, the challenges that were faced, the promises that could not be fulfilled. It is also an opportunity to renew and reassert expectations. This is a truly unique moment, because the new presidency is taking office just as the University of São Paulo turns 80 and the city of São Paulo commemorates its 460th anniversary. Compared with other European and North American universities, USP is still very young, with sundry tasks and challenges ahead.

The University of São Paulo was created in 1934 as a project of higher learning drawn up by economic and political elites. Strongly inspired by the Enlightenment, the project strove to establish the foundations for renewed and innovative intellectual and professional education, conferring upon science and culture the mission to transform existing political habits. This purpose comprised a set of objectives aimed at a) promoting social and economic development, and strengthening liberal democracy in society; b) changing a mindset anchored in tradition and in personalistic of social relations; c) preparing a capable ruling class to modernize the country, affect social consciousness, and propose action plans to solve the nation’s problems; d) preparing students for all professions and, thus, expand markets and provide competent staffs for the state bureaucracy; e) expanding the intellectual and scientific horizons by stimulating exchange with what the most advanced universities, research centers and cultural centers abroad had to offer; f) stimulating, as it was said at the time, higher studies in broadly diverse fields of knowledge, from experimental sciences to humanities, from technologies to the arts.

In the recollections of former faculty, former students and former employees, there is frequent mention of the stringent requirements that overlaid academic activities. Classes demanded hours and hours of copious preparation and consultation of books and bibliographical references, oftentimes in the faculty’s own libraries. In turn, and no less arduously, the almost encyclopedic learning called for by certain contents demanded from students hours of concentration and often solitary study. The science produced within laboratories and facilities still being built depended less on existing resources than on innovative and creative genius. Science was unbiased, barely influenced by external factors, whether from the marketplace, the political milieu or social movements.

Science and cultural events went hand in hand. Full-fledged scientists not only were engaged in science tout court, but could also converse about literature, visual arts, performing arts, music, iconography. Side by side with physicists, chemists, biologists, technologists, historians and social scientists thrived good memoirists, philosophers, storytellers, chroniclers, composers and painters. A visit to the library of any venerable scholar was enough to observe that science and culture, truth and philosophy, are inseparable.

University administration, seen as a means and not an end, went beyond the mere management of human and material resources. It was at the service of an enabling academic project aimed not only at facing the contemporary challenges and dilemmas of Brazilian society, but also at thrusting science, culture and the arts for future generations and the ensuing decades. Herein lay the political role of academic leaders: to make wise, bold decisions and to dare to merge imagination, utopia and the cumulative experiences in exemplary academic careers.

To be sure, those early years would not have pointed to a promising future had it not been for the contribution of foreign missions that put us in touch with both young and experienced scholars. These missions acquainted us, so to speak, with the prevailing habits in the international scientific community.

They helped to enroot in the USP community the notion of the indivisibility between scientific investigation (and its rigorous methodological standards), teaching, learning and the dissemination of knowledge. No less important was the dedication of young professors, including the first women, who excelled in all fields of knowledge and faced the institutional challenges of building the University of São Paulo. This university was cast 50 years ahead of its time.

It is difficult to assess how much this nostalgia corresponds to the facts. Precisely because it is nostalgia, it has become part of our collective memory and the selective construction of history. Despite the virtues underlying the narrative of these early events, one must be aware of its limits: after all, it was an elitist, almost aristocratic, model, submitted to the ironclad control of professorships, founded on an hegemonic concept of science and, perhaps, even of culture and the arts.

These limitations have led, throughout USP’s history, to cumulative tensions and conflicts, and even stimulated the radicalization of differences. This was rendered even worse with the advent of the military dictatorship, which violently imposed silence upon dissenting voices and, through mandatory retirement and political persecution, removed important academic and scientific leaders. Still, among those who managed to remain and to resist the modernizing project of an authoritarian government, it was possible to preserve traditions and secure the fundamental principles that, so to speak, are in the DNA of this academic community: freedom and autonomy. What distinguishes us is the undeniable exercise of freedom in intellectual creation and our autonomy in research, teaching and dissemination of knowledge.

Freedom in the sense of absence of constraints on thinking and its manifestations, save those determined by scientific and professional ethics. Autonomy in the sense of being able to act independently from any type of private interest alien to the purposes and mission of the university. It is the preservation of these principles that allows the University of São Paulo to properly fulfill its inherent paradox, to wit, being part of society and, at the same time, a space of creative and constructive criticism of society; being an institutional space attentive to the problems and demands of society, but also a community capable of thinking differently from the society at large and providing relevant answers to complex problems.

At this moment, when the anniversary of the University of São Paulo mingles with the inauguration of its new president and with the anniversary of our city, the University Council wishes the new leader a most fruitful mandate. May he harmoniously combine prudence and daring, respecting tradition while overcoming resistance to change. May he listen to dissonant voices in pursuit of a possible consensus, however transient, in every field of intervention: research, teaching, culture and extension, academic exchanges, management of material and human resources, relationship with external agencies to support their core activities. And may he maintain an ongoing dialogue with organized civil society and opinion makers, even as he faces the challenge of establishing a new foundation for the relationship between the three bodies that compose the university: faculty, students and employees.

We all know that the new president possesses all the intellectual qualities needed to face the immense challenges that lie ahead. We are also aware of his successful experience in various positions of academic management. The confirmation of the academic election and his recognition by the highest authority of the state of São Paulo are unquestionable expressions of his prestige and of his acceptance both within and outside the USP community. At the same time, these qualities place on his hands the challenge of governing the University of São Paulo in a time of dramatic change and adversity. The University Council wishes the new president energy and strength to carry out his program for the management and governance of the university.


* This salutation makes reference to arguments, ideas and formulations I previously developed in ADORNO, S. Universidade em crise. Le Monde Diplomatique. I:4, Brazil, November 4, 2007, p. 34-35.