The appointment of a new rector at Chile's largest and oldest university has thrown the campus into a fierce and protracted struggle against military control of the institution. Head of State Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte named businessman Jos'e Luis Federici rector of the University of Chile in August. The appointment sparked an immediate rebellion in the academic community that continues two months later. And it has drawn together in opposition professors, students, employees, deans, and even some other government-appointed administrators.
Part of the resistance to Mr. Federici stems from longstanding resentment over the military regime's direct control of the university system, dating from the 1973 coup against Socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens. General Pinochet has appointed all rectors, who were previously elected by the entire university community. Most have been active-duty Army generals.
But the surprising vehemence of the current battle is the result of a general fear in the university that Federici's ``modernization'' plan is a facade for the university's dismemberment.
In a letter made public Oct. 4 to the head of the university's teaching and research hospital, for example, Federici outlined a 40 percent budget cut for 1988, arguing that the institution should seek to ``pay its own way.''
Chilean higher education already has been affected heavily by the free-market ideologues who wield great influence in the military government.
Just as the state should play a subsidiary economic role to private enterprise, the economic advisers reason, the central government should also step aside in the delivery of certain social services such as education - leaving the field to the free play of market forces. An early casualty of this approach has been the national university system, one of the most prestigious in Latin America.
The University of Chile's budget has been slashed in real terms by 40 percent since 1982, Patricio Basso, head of the academic association and recently dismissed by the rector, says. Research funds have increased, but grants are increasingly tied to the private industry's requirements, he says.
``The government wants to restrict the university to the formation of professionals,'' Fernando Monckeberg, head of the university's Food and Nutrition Science Institute, says. ``But we believe we have other responsibilities, we need a place to think freely, to look at different alternatives for Chile's problems.''
Humanities and arts faculties fear they could be wiped out completely, if the economic philosophy is allowed to take root.
Federici came to office in the middle of a professors' strike over higher wages. His early statements and actions were seen as combative rather than conciliatory, thus provoking further tension. But the fight was joined in earnest when the Council of Deans openly opposed his nomination in a nearly unanimous vote. The deans are professors of high prestige, and many are sympathetic to the military government.
Since assuming office Federici has fired eight deans and 120 professors, including virtually the entire leadership of the academic association. In many cases those dismissed have refused to recognize his authority and continue to report to their offices. He also suspended the salaries of all professors last week.
Protest rallies and other actions have been staged daily since late August while professors and students remain out on strike.
Federici closed the school for two weeks in September in an unsuccessful attempt to end the movement. When he officially reopened classes Sept. 28, only three were held in virtually empty classrooms. Since then, only a few classes have been held in various departments.
Critics say during his tenure as head of the state railroad company, Federici sold its assets at far-below-market value. The rector was unavailable for an interview, and his press office provided no response to a series of written questions.