Mexico president turns fire on top university

Mexico City (AFP) – First feminists, then the middle class -- now Mexico's largest university is under attack from President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who accuses it of aligning itself with "neoliberals" who plundered the nation.


Lopez Obrador has repeatedly criticized the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in recent days, saying the prestigious public institution has "moved to the right" and "gentrified."

The leftist leader, known for his ability to stir public discussion through his daily news conference, is himself a former student of UNAM, where he studied political science between 1973 and 1976.

Lopez Obrador alleges that UNAM managers and academics were "co-opted" and failed to criticize the "neoliberal" economic and political establishment for several decades before he took office.

In his view, the university seems disconnected from the country's problems, and its graduates prefer to work for large corporations.

"Of course, UNAM moved to the right in the neoliberal period, because they said nothing during the biggest plundering in national history," Lopez Obrador said this week, referring to privatizations in recent decades.

According to Lopez Obrador, this reduced role of the state was accompanied by deep corruption and inequality that sowed the seeds of rampant criminal violence plaguing the country.

His attack has caught students and academics at UNAM by surprise.

"I don't agree with the president... he shocked me," said 25-year-old chemical engineering student Miguel Angel Torres, adding that the university offers high-quality programs at low cost.

"I know professors who do their best," he said.

'Hates the middle class'

UNAM, which has almost 350,000 students, joins other targets of Lopez Obrador's criticism, including politicians, business leaders, environmental defenders, NGOs and others.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is known for his ability to stir public discussion through his daily news conference
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is known for his ability to stir public discussion through his daily news conference Pedro PARDO AFP/File

Condemning skirmishes that broke out during feminist marches, the 67-year-old president said that "conservatives in disguise" were behind the movement.

And after his party's majority in the lower house of Congress was slashed in June's mid-term elections, Lopez Obrador turned his wrath on a middle class he called selfish and unscrupulous.

Critics of Lopez Obrador, who enjoys an approval rating exceeding 60 percent and usually labels his opponents as "conservative," denounced his latest broadside.

UNAM "is a middle-class institution and he (Lopez Obrador) hates the middle class," former foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, who was a professor at the university, told AFP.

Contrary to what the president says, the UNAM faculties of social sciences are "very left-wing," he added.

Political analyst Carlos Bravo Regidor said that the president is not opening a debate but "launching a provocation" to influence the university's leadership succession.

Lopez Obrador toned down his criticism on Wednesday, said that UNAM is a "great university" and that the government respects its autonomy.

Founded in 1910 and given administrative and curriculum autonomy by the government in 1929, UNAM is considered one of the leading universities in Latin America.

In response to the criticism, UNAM said in a statement that it had "always been respectful" of diverse ideologies, currents of thought, political positions and opinions of the members of its community.

Mariana Gutierrez, a 29-year-old architect and recent UNAM graduate, believes that the university should not be "on the left or right" but remain neutral.

Victor Hugo Calzada, a 54-year-old book restorer at the university's central library, sees Lopez Obrador as someone who believes that "if you don't think like him, you're against him."