100 years of the University Reform

In 1918, the university students organized themselves to lead the transformation of the University; 100 years later that legacy remains and it is updated.

Publicada el 28 de septiembre de 2018

On June 15, 1918, students from Córdoba stormed the University of Cordoba’s premises to prevent a member of the religious political from being consecrated Rector of that House of Higher Studies, which became known as the “Grito de Córdoba” [Córdoba’s scream]. That was one of the milestones that gave life to the Reform movement, which had been brewing since the end of 1917.

The mood of that time was characterized by a struggle for the expansion of social rights. Argentina had its first democratic presidency after the enactment of the Sáenz Peña Law; the workers unionized while the unions were torn between communism and anarchism.

Hipólito Irigoyen’s first government introduced collective bargaining or arbitration awards, but also, when it was not possible to reach an agreement, repressions were ordered.

Meanwhile, the world sought to put an end to its First World War and the shock wave of the Russian Revolution reached unthinkable latitudes. In Latin America, the echo of the Mexican Revolution was added to the rumble of the fall of Great Britain as the main trading partner of the region and its replacement by the United States. Europe ceased to be the beacon of modernity and the first nationalisms emerged.

The students were not oblivious to these historical and social processes and soon that struggle had its correlate within Argentinian Universities.

The reformist seed

While times of change were lived from the social perspective, the University was still dominated by a conservative vision of education, which limited it to the elites, keeping the courses programs very rigid and avoiding the renovation of chairs and consequently, their ideas. That situation aroused the students’ desire to change the status quo.

The fact that triggered the student protests that led to the Reform was the closure of the boarding school of Hospital Nacional de Clínicas of the Medical Sciences School of Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, where students who came from far away lived.

On December 1, 1917, the university authorities announced the suppression of the students’ pension for “economic and moral reasons”, which triggered strong protests from the students, led by Alfredo Degano, President of the Student Center of that School.

A request was drafted and submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Public Instruction, which demanded the urgent renewal of teachers, the reformation of the curricula and which strongly criticized the closure of the boarding school. In parallel, they published a manifesto so that medicine students would not accept practitioning at Hospital de Clínicas. But the Medical School authorities did not reply to the request.

After the summer break, the Student Centers of the Schools of Engineering, Medicine and Law summoned all the students to fight for the change of the status quo in the Medical School.

On March 10, 1918, a student strike was held and a Pro-Reform Committee was created, composed of one student per academic unit, chaired by Ernesto Garzón, Horacio Valdéz and Gumersindo Sayago. But the Superior Council decided “not to take into account any student requests”. By April 1, the student strike continued and classes did not begin.

The protests were more and more heated and President Hipólito Yrigoyen decided to receive Gumersindo Sayago, Horacio Valdés and Enrique Barros, representatives of the Pro-Reform Committee.

The students get organized

The three representatives of the Pro-Reform Committee travelled to Buenos Aires to meet student leaders who were fighting the same struggle. On April 11, the Argentine University Federation (in Spanish, FUA) was formed, presided over by Osvaldo Loudet.

At the same time, Yrigoyen sent Dr. José Nicolás Matienzo as the government’s auditor to the University, after the meeting he had had with the students from Córdoba.

Almost immediately after taking office, Matienzo wrote and enacted a new by-law for Universidad de Córdoba which would replace that of 1893, which he considered restrictive because it left the government in the hands of people with life tenures and excluded the faculty.

A new University Assembly was convened on May 31, composed of tenured and alternate faculty. During that month, the Deans of the three existing Schools were democratically elected: Law, Medicine and Exact Sciences. The candidates of the parties that represented the reformist ideas won in all the Schools.

During the Assembly, Belisario Caraffa was proclaimed Vice-Rector and the election of the Rector was postponed to June 15. Although everything indicated that Dr. Enrique María Paz, one of the promoters of the Reform, would be elected Rector, the Assembly of Councilors elected Dr. Antonio Nores, candidate of the Catholic-root association “Corda Frates”. But the students burst inside, got him out of the room, prevented the act from being consummated and declared a new strike.

On June 17, Nores took over as Rector, which generated new acts of violence. Córdoba’s University Federation demanded his resignation and disseminated the Introductory Manifesto, addressed to the “Free Men of South America”, written by Deodoro Roca. Students from all over the country and workers joined the strike.

The protests continued and on July 6, Fray Zenón Bustos, Bishop of Córdoba, accused the students of “frank malfeasance and sacrilege”. Five days later, the Superior Council closed the University.

On July 21, the First National Congress of Students began in Cordoba, convened by the FUA [Argentine University Federation] where the need for autonomy, a joint tripartite government, free attendance, competition and periodicity of the chair regime, promotion of research, and modernization of teaching methods were proclaimed.

Faced with this situation, Nores resigned from the rectorate and was followed by a large number of professors. New student demonstrations took place and the President appointed a new auditor for Universidad de Córdoba, Dr. José Salinas.

Salinas reformed the by-laws again, this time agreeing to a large part of the students’ demands, and he accepted the resignation of numerous professors from their chairs. And from that point on, many reformists like Arturo Capdevilla, Deodoro Roca, Arturo and Raúl Orgaz, among others, began to teach courses.

Córdoba’s Scream is heard throughout the country

The spirit of the Reform was to democratize access to higher education. In that sense, in 1919, Universidad Nacional del Litoral was created.

Meanwhile, in La Plata, the Student Assembly approved a tough manifesto and declared a strike. The protests were extended and, in 1920, Rodolfo Rivarola, President of that University, resigned, which led to the reform of the by-laws.

Between 1921 and 1922, not only was Universidad Nacional de Tucumán nationalized, but Mario Sáenz, a reformist, was elected Dean of the School of Law of Buenos Aires. In September 1921, the first International Student Congress was held in Mexico, in which the International Student Federation was created. And on April 11, 1922, the reformist by-laws of Universidad del Litoral were approved.