University Students Strike Against Academic Reforms
MEXICO CITY (AP) _ A strike by students protesting a series of tough academic reforms virtually paralyzed the giant National Autonomous University of Mexico on Thursday.
The strike leaders, from the leftist-dominated University Student Council, said they will continue negotiations with Rector Jorge Carpizo’s representatives.
They said, however, that the walkout will continue until Carpizo scraps a series of reforms he introduced last December.
With a student enrollment estimated at 350,000, the university, known as UNAM, is Mexico’s largest university and considered one of the world’s biggest.
It was impossible to gauge how many students were observing the strike, but newspaper, television and radio reports said the action had virtually shut down the university.
At the stroke of midnight Wednesday, about 200 strike leaders set up picket lines in at least 30 faculty buildings and campuses, forcing a suspension of classes.
However, students at the schools of architecture, law, medicine, dentistry and chemistry and one of the two-year ″preparatory″ schools turned the picketers away and opened for classes, according to local news reports.
Also, hundreds of others in strike-bound faculties and schools met with teachers in makeshift classes in nearby parks or vacant buildings.
An estimated one-third of the university’s students are grouped in the Student Council, the biggest of two student factions. An undetermined number are grouped in the recently formed University Voice, a smaller organization that supports Carpizo.
The rest of the undergraduate and graduate students are either independent or indifferent.
Carpizo’s reforms require entrance examinations for everyone, a minimum passing grade of 7 over 10 points, a time limit for graduating, and increasing the current annual tuition of $2 - which hasn’t changed for a decade - to about $20.
At present, entrance examinations are not required of students graduating from the university’s two-year preparatory schools.
The average passing grade in some faculties is as low as 5 over 10 points, and there is no time-limit for graduation. Some of the Student Council leaders have been pursuing bachelor’s degrees for 18 years and have been nicknamed ″fossils″ by their fellow students.
Carpizo has claimed the reforms will weed out the ″fossils″ and make the university more efficient and better able to meet the country’s needs.
While Student Council leaders have publicly conceded UNAM’s system needs to be reformed, they argued Carpizo has gone about them the wrong way.
They claimed the reforms should have been discussed publicly at an open congress of all the students and faculty members, then submitted to a university-wide referendum.
During negotiations over the past month, Carpizo argued the reforms were approved by the University Administrative Council, the only body empowered by law to rule on the matter. The Student Council is represented on that body along with the faculty and the alumni associations.
An open congress and referendum as advocated by the Student Council would violate UNAM’s charter and by-laws, Carpizo claimed.