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Students win one round… on to round two?

5 December 2014

The IPN strike has ended after three and a half months.  Students at the 44 academic and vocational schools that comprise the National Polytechnic Institute walked out in October, over complaints about educational “reforms” that would compromise the school’s stated mission of investigation and research that serves the Mexican nation, misuse of state funds meant for supporting students and research, ineffective administration, and attempts to stifle political speech on campus.

Unlike other major universities in Mexico, IPN’s director is not appointed by the university community, but by the Secretary of Public Instruction.  One of the most pressing was the replacement of then director Yoloxóchitl Bustamante Díez, who — students believed — was overly-generous with the payroll and benefits for university administrators, but, was also doing little or nothing… or even encouraging… “educational reforms” proposed by the Peña Nieto administration… that would stint, or even end, funding for academic studies, in favor of vocational education. The latter was something even those students in purely vocational training programs objected to, understanding that the school was always intended to further Mexican scientific and industrial development and that their own careers depended on the academic research and applied science research of their academic peers.

Bustamante’s forced resignation cleared away one demand, although the administration tried to find a director who could be sold to the students, while not undermining their own plans to depoliticize the students, and to de-fund pure research, they were finally forced to offer the position to Enrique Fernández Fassnacht… a well respected chemical engineer and, at the time, the Executive Director of ANUIES (The National Association of Universities and Institutes of Higher Education, for its Spanish acronym), on 20 November (Revolution Day!).

I happened to be watching the negotiations (which were being broadcast live on the school’s open access television channel) when Dr. Fernández Fassnacht — who had been sitting with the Secretary of Education’s negotiators, moved his chair to the student side of the table. Having taken the post as director, he felt obliged to defend the school, and … symbolically… was signalling that the students’ demands were not only just, but in the best interests of the university and the state. The proposed “reforms” that would have folded the country’s second largest educational institution into a national chain of “voc-tec” colleges meant to train (not educate) workers for local businesses (often foreign-run enterprises) was dead, and what remained as an original issue were the questions of political speech and campus security.

Because it is not, as most universities in Mexico are, an “Autonomous body” (funded by the state, but self-regulating), IPN is still subject to direct interference by the state and Federal District governments. Withdrawing Mexico City Police and replacing them (as in the autonomous universities) with University controlled security forces, is not something that will happen overnight, but is meant both to meet the demand for better security on campus, and to remove a force that has been used to stamp out dissent on campus. Promises of non-interference in student politics have been agreed to by the Secretary of Education, the Secretariat of Governance (Interior Ministry, or Home Secretary), and — with the approval of the 44 campus representative bodies — a rollback in the academic schedule to allow for students to make up the time lost to the strike — the students have achieved a complete victory.

And, now, with the 160,000 or so students not having focus on their own issues, they can join with the nation’s other students, workers, campesinos and middle class … Ayotzinapa.

But… for tonight. IPN is a “technical school”, and music is a technical skill, so of course the school has a fine symphony. The only institute of higher learning with its own official mambo: Perez Prado’s “Mambo Politécnico” what better way to cheer the victory?

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