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The Liminar Manifesto of Cordoba, yesterday and today

Just a few times we stop to analyze the source and development of words which are the basis of what we are; people think “things have always been the same.” A principle, value or concept such as autonomy is one of these expressions. Maybe we only are aware of its importance when we face an unexpected life-changing act or when you have the opportunity to be immersed in a university environment.

Although autonomy is a human yearning, there is not much awareness of its importance when you are within a university environment, an awareness which was even greater in 1918 at the Universidad de Córdoba (Argentina). Autonomy fundamentally defines the university.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Liminar Manifesto of Cordoba. Since then, those youngsters turned America and the world into the epicenter and reference point of the university movement with unusual effects up to today.

The Liminar Manifesto is a proclamation of what a university must be today and especially what it was for those youngsters of Cordoba at the time: an immediate transition from confessional, authoritarian and traditional to modern, scientific and autonomous education.

Among other demands, the Manifesto proclaimed:

  • A university government of and for the students
  • Class freedom
  • The social function of the university
  • A head-on battle against any authoritarian or government form of knowledge

The reform comes from the need for autonomy and a new university government, changes in teaching and academic methods, universal knowledge dialogue and scientific disciplines and social projection of the university.

Germán Arciniegas, a Colombian historian, diplomat and politician said the Manifesto would allow Latin American universities to make a big leap and while “it was not what it was supposed to be, it is no longer what it was”. In other words, the request of Argentine youngsters, who also inspired their Latin American contemporaries to fight for their education, has not been completely consolidated but has allowed in some cases, substantial changes.

Looking at the history of Colombian higher education, the consequences may be understood. For instance, between 1971 and 2011 students clearly demanded principles for higher education. Continued student protests in face of constant fund cuts for university institutions are just a sample of the damage to the Colombian public university and especially to its autonomy.

Student mobilizations still claim for university autonomy and the possibility of accessing higher education as a right and not as a service. Possibly, some steps forward have been achieved to boost the social mission of the Colombian university.

Times have changed and with that institutions also. At 100 years of the Manifesto, the Colombian university should be open to the political and social scenario of this new peace situation and also propitiate government changes to strengthen its institutionality.

The Cordoba Manifesto opens the debate of the modern Latin American university, which should place its stakes for an open, scientific, free, critical institution and especially have an ample social sense. The Latin American university is still far from the ideals of 1918.

The governmental strategies advance and compel higher education institutions to comply with quality standards which must be achieved with low budgetary allotments. It is probable that both students and professors have forgotten that the university should be an autonomous entity with responsibilities toward the country and the state, with high critical sense in face of convulsive planetary progression and with great environmental and inequality issues.

Autonomy is the highest expression of freedom because it means the will and the desire to directly take on their own responsibility, hindering others from doing so. It means that a person has chosen his/her own possibility of living in community and governed by themselves to achieve their goals picked as valuable, imposing upon themselves the necessary discipline to achieve their freely chosen objectives.

An autonomous person needs to successfully solve the threats that stand in the way of the achievement of his/her goals, to the external power of others who are determined to restrict the call for freedom and autonomous decisions, and the internal decision of his/her internal passions which subdue their volition and make it manageable. As stated by the Liminar Manifesto, autonomy means to be one for self and obey fundamental ethical principles accepted as proper.

If autonomy is an authenticity longing, its opposite is fear of originality and eagerness of uniformity. This is why autonomy is a duty for all people with themselves, self-respect by reason of fear and the laziness of many people to assume this call for freedom.

Since then, autonomy is the decision to act freely according to a moral determination of our own consciousness. When inferring this very old concept to the university and the demand of Cordoba; autonomy is the freedom to create knowledge in diversity, without political radicalism of any kind, regulated by difference and not by homogenization, authentic in its complexity and particularity.

Autonomy is, therefore, connatural to the university of knowledge as a space for hope, because only with freedom and hope there is university autonomy. This and much more is the legacy of the 1918 Liminar Manifesto of Cordoba.

Consejo Editorial