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Tension marks University of Chile anniversary: Students Protest 1997 budget cuts

ChilNet extract from El Mercurio, La Epoca
21 November 1996

Imminent budget cuts and student protests created a climate of tension Tuesday at University of Chile celebrations of the 154th anniversary of its founding.

Unlike past anniversary celebrations conducted behind closed doors, this year professors, administration staff and students were invited, as well as Education Minister Jose Pablo Arellano and other government officials.

But ten students, their faces concealed by black, conical hoods were a constant, held silent protest during the event. Outside, nearly 100 students voiced their protests of the crisis that afflicts the university.

Last Thursday, a joint congressional committee approved budget cuts totaling more than $5.1 billion pesos (US$12.2 million) for the University of Chile's1997 academic year.

The issue has put the University of Chile at odds with the Association of Regional Universities, which contends that the state treasury channels funds to the "U" that are discretionary, inequitable, and not subject to public bids.

A letter of congratulations sent from Canada by President Eduardo Frei, was followed by harsh words of criticism from recently re-elected Student Federation president Rodrigo Roco, a Communist Party member. The university, charged Roco, is "permanently ignored and cowed, but above all threatened by internal politics." The state, he said, owes universities an historic debt and needs to take action "so that universities do not have to act like wild beasts fighting over scraps."

University chancellor Jaime Lavados said congressional deputies who supported the budget cuts exercised mistaken judgment in failing to take into account the school's academic excellence nationally. He discounted any favoritism towards the university, citing statistics to back up his claim. Between 1981 and 1996 the University of Chile«s share of the national budget fell from 28.8 percent to 22.4 percent, while funds allocated to regional universities increased from 18.4 percent to 29.7 percent, according to Lavados. *

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