Magazine article Newsweek International

No More Free Marx?

Magazine article Newsweek International

No More Free Marx?

Article excerpt

Students shut down UNAM over fee hikes

For the 270,000 students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the cost of a college education is less than the price of a pack of gum: just 40 centavos a year, or about four U.S. cents. So when administrators tried to raise tuition last month for the first time in 50 years, to $145 a year, it was only natural that students would grumble. But the fiery student strike that has shut down the Western Hemisphere's largest university for the last two weeks has had the distinct aroma of revolutions gone by. With bed frames and tree branches barricading the university's entrance gates, striking students sold T shirts bearing the images of Ernesto (Che) Guevara and Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. Protesters nearby were burning a list of classmates who had signed up for a rally--just in case the authorities try to retaliate. And inside the campus's Ho Chi Minh Auditorium, students and professors gathered for a lecture entitled "Savage Capitalism at UNAM."

The standoff between students and administrators is less a fight over money than a battle over the university's--and the nation's-- ideological soul. UNAM, which has long embodied the egalitarian principles of the Mexican revolution, is the latest battleground in the government's attempt to dismantle the welfare state. Charging tuition, government officials say, will help UNAM move into the modern world-- and compete with private institutions that have undermined its dominance. To most students, however, social justice must come first. …

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