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Guadalajara’s monolithic public university eyes continued growth

April 13, 2013

Having been elected earlier this year, Tonatiuh Bravo Padilla was formally sworn in as rector of the University of Guadalajara (UdeG) on April 1.

Although the public UdeG is set to receive eight billion pesos from the government this year, Bravo wasted no time in calling for more funds, declaring the current budget insufficient to cope with the expansion the university has undergone over the last 18 years. An increased budget, Bravo said, would help create 56,000 additional places in higher education in Jalisco and another 120,000 at upper-secondary (preparatoria) level.

Having won 106 of the 182 votes cast by university councillors, Bravo was elected UdeG rector in January and will serve until 2019. Present at his inauguration were Governor Aristoteles Sandoval, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera and Jose Narro Robles, rector of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

After he was sworn in, Bravo highlighted the problems that he hopes to solve as rector. In Jalisco, only 33 percent of young people are in higher education and only 68 percent study at prepatoria level, he said. The state makes the fourth biggest contribution to Mexico’s GDP, but has only the 17th best level of students enrolled at university, he added.

Such levels exacerbate existing problems in society, Bravo said, noting that in Jalisco there are over 500,000 people aged 14 to 29 who neither study nor work, due to lack of opportunities and public investment.

Aside from demanding increased funds, Bravo called for a pact for youth, which “must take Jalisco in six years from 33-percent coverage in higher education to at least 50 percent, and from 68 percent to 80 percent in the case of upper secondary education.”

Bravo’s demands had an immediate impact and on Sunday it was announced that the UdeG will receive an additional 129 million pesos from the Public Education Department (SEP) for investment in prepatorias. “These funds will be invested in the construction of new schools, in addition to improving the existing infrastructure,” said a SEP statement.

Founded in 1792, but not legally established until 1925, the UdeG is the country’s second biggest public university after the UNAM in Mexico City. It has become one of Mexico’s most prestigious educational institutions and although students must meet high academic standards to enrol, they only pay nominal inscription fees, in contrast to those who study at Mexico’s expensive private universities.

More than just a collection of prepatorias and college campuses across Jalisco and beyond (there is even a campus in Los Angeles), the UdeG has its own television and radio networks, runs extensive research departments, and organizes major events such as the Guadalajara International Film Festival (FICG) and the Guadalajara Book Fair (FIL), the world’s second largest literature festival.

Traditionally considered a leftist institution, the UdeG has shared a long-standing rivalry with the the private Autonomous University of Guadalajara (UAG), which was founded in 1935 by students opposed to the socialist tendencies of public education under President Lazaro Cardenas.

As the United States grew more concerned by the spread of communism during the Cold War, the UAG would receive funding from the CIA in order to provide a counter-balance to the leftist student movements cropping up at universities across Mexico and Latin America. The UdeG was among the universities viewed with suspicion by U.S. officials, with consular staff in Guadalajara describing it as “leftist and often publicly anti-U.S.” in diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks.

During the height of the Cold War, the AUG student union, the Tecos, became involved in a fierce and at times deadly rivalry with its UdeG counterpart, the Guadalajara Student Federation (FEG), with gun battles between the two mafia-like organizations not uncommon over the years.

This rivalry will be revived in a more peaceful manner on Friday when UdeG pro soccer team Leones Negros goes head to head with Estudiantes for the last time before the latter side formally ends its affiliation with the UAG (having been bought out by Carlos Slim and the Grupo Pachuca earlier this year).

Although it has since been replaced as the official UdeG union by the Federation of University Students (FEU), the FEG still exists to this day and counts Bravo among its former presidents.

A member of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) who has twice represented Jalisco as a federal deputy, Bravo also previously served as rector of the UdeG’s Center for Economic and Administrative Sciences (CUCEA). Like any senior figure in the UdeG or the Jalisco chapter of the PRD, Bravo owes much of his experience and his current position to his cousin, the influential former rector and political kingmaker, Raul Padilla Lopez.

Padilla not only sets the political agenda within the UdeG – mobilizing the strangely apathetic students who only march in mass when they are instructed to – but also exerts a strong influence over party politics in Jalisco. Following the spit between Citizen’s Movement nominee Enrique Alfaro and the Jalisco PRD ahead of last year’s state election, Padilla essentially pushed his weight behind Sandoval of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) by ensuring the PRD fielded a relatively unknown candidate who would not win but did claim some of the leftist vote that would otherwise have gone to Alfaro.

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