Brazil Enacts Affirmative Action Law for Universities

Brazil’s government has enacted one of the Western Hemisphere’s most sweeping affirmative action laws, requiring public universities to reserve half of their admission spots for largely poor students in the nation’s public schools and vastly increase the number of university students of African descent across country. The law, signed Wednesday by Dilma Rousseff, seeks to reverse racial and income inequality that has long characterized Brazil, a country with more people of African heritage than any nation outside of Africa. Despite strides over last decade in lifting millions out of poverty, Brazil remains one of the world’s most unequal societies. “Brazil owes a historical debt to a huge part of its population,” said Jorge Werthein, who directs the Brazilian Center for Latin American Studies. “The democratization of higher education, which has always been a dream for most neglected students in public schools, is one way of paying this debt.” As in the United States, affirmative action has stirred controversy and opposition here, even at some of the state universities that are exempt from the new law and have their own programs to admit underprivileged students. Critics contend enforcing expansive quotas will undercut quality of Brazil’s public university system, given nation’s relatively weak public elementary and secondary schools. “You don’t create capable and creative people by decree,” said Leandro Tessler, institutional relations coordinator at University of Campinas. But while affirmative action has come under threat in United States, it is taking deeper root in Brazil, Latin America’s largest country. Though the new legislation, called Law of Social Quotas, is expected to face legal challenges, it drew broad support among the lawmakers. Of Brazil’s 81 senators, only one voted against the law this month. Other spheres of government have also supported affirmative action measures. In a closely watched decision in April, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the racial quotas enacted in 2004 by the University of Brasília, which reserved 20% of its spots for black and mixed-race students. Dozens of other Brazilian universities, both public and private, have also adopted their own affirmative action policies in recent years, trying to curb the dominance of such institutions by middle and upper-middle-class students who were educated at private elementary and secondary schools. Public universities in Brazil are largely free of charge, generally of better quality, with some exceptions, than private universities. Still, education experts are already predicting a shift to better private universities among some students. “With these quotas, these rich Brazilians who took up their spots will not be abandoned,” argued Frei David Santos, 60, Franciscan friar in São Paulo who directs Educafro, an organization preparing black and low-income students for university entrance exams. “Their parents who had money saved will spend it” on elite private universities (…..)



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2 Responses to Brazil Enacts Affirmative Action Law for Universities

  1. Yale has received withering criticism — from students, academics and activists — for plans to open a four-year liberal arts college in conjunction with the National University of Singapore. The conflict lies in the city-state’s potential restrictions on what many consider normal parts of American college life — political activity, student protests and the support of gay rights. Other schools from the United States, Britain and Europe have opened branches and joint programs in Asian or Middle Eastern countries where some rights are also curtailed. Many are successful — particularly business schools — and none have met with the furor Yale has. Is it wrong for a university to operate in a host nation that doesn’t allow its citizens the same rights they would have in the West? Or are joint programs — even flawed ones — a good way to help a host nation develop better rights in the future? Are U.S. schools limiting themselves if they insist that their foreign partners have their same sensibilities they do?

    My colleague Liz Gooch reports from Singapore:

  2. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The Yale-Singapore question reminds my school years in the US. Back in 1975, I was a PhD candidate at MSU with a Brazilian scholarship financed by the Fulbright Foundation. In those years -post fall of Saigon and Vietnam war defeat — romantic leftist anti-establishment political thinking was very much in vogue in American campuses. I remember reading flyers denouncing my scholarship as ” MSU support for the Brazilian dictatorship.” Luckily for me, money talks and politics walks in American campuses. Today, politics has been replaced by fun at American campuses.


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