Dr Mauricio Schoijet, a social scientist working in Mexico, describes his lawsuit for proper formal recognition for his scholarship.


Summary of a Lawsuit against the Sistema Nacional de Investigadores

See also: "Background and Reasons for a Lawsuit Against the Sistema Nacional de Investigadores"

For more information, contact Mauricio Schoijet, schoijet@prodigy.net.mx

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Low Intensity McCarthyism Mexican Style

In the European universities of the XVI and XVII centuries there was no place for the most advanced contemporary science and philosophy. Neither Copernicus, nor Descartes, nor Leibnitz, were university professors. There was no place for economic history in the Argentine universities from the 1930s to the 1960s. It was started outside of these institutions by outsiders, political militants trained in other areas like Ricardo M.Ortiz, or who did not have any college degree and probably not even a high school degree, like Luis Sommi and Milcíades Peña.

In Nazi Germany, in the Soviet Union under Stalin, in Franco's Spain and in the United States at the height of the Cold War there were loyalty campaigns. In Guatemala and Argentina the military dictatorships carried out bloody university purges, which included a large number of professors kidnapped and murdered, others imprisoned for years without trial or tried for "ideological infiltration." The American campaign, called mccarthyism for Senator Joseph McCarthy, wanted to humiliate its victims, run them out of their jobs and in some cases throw them into prison. Right now in Germany there are more civilized forms of repression. Those who belong to organizations labeled "enemies of the Constitution", even if they are legal, are not allowed to teach.

In Mexico, starting in 1984 under the presidency of Miguel De La Madrid and under the next presidency of Carlos Salinas, one small state college, two research institutions and several research groups were closed down or disbanded; several researchers were dismissed from research institutes dependent on the government owned public utilities, and one professor was dismissed from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional. A large number, probably close to two hundred, lost their jobs. The two larger research institutions were the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones en Recursos Bióticos (INIREB) and the Centro de Ecodesarrollo (Ecodevelopment). The research groups were the Proyecto Lázaro Cárdenas of the School of Political Science of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, which focused on energy and natural resources, and the energy studies group of the Colegio de México. Dr. Lilia Albert, probably the best known Mexican toxicologist, who did research on pesticide and heavy metals contamination at the INIREB, was left without a job, without a laboratory and without students. One of those who lost their jobs was Dr. Iván Restrepo, who was the Director of the Centro de Ecodesarrollo and a well known critic of official environmental policies.

The Sistema Nacional de Investigadores (SNI) was created in 1984. At that time, and as a result of the economic crisis unleashed in the early 1980s by the fall of the petroleum prices, Mexico experienced a severe inflation that caused a drastic reduction of real salaries, including those of university professors. The Sistema was created with the aim of mitigating this situation for an upper layer of the better qualified and most productive in research, providing a substantial supplement to their income for periods of three to eight years, to be extended to their lifetimes for those who had had it for a longer time. It was run jointly by the Secretary of Public Education and the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias. The Academia is the most important scientific society in Mexico, and the only one which has an institutionalized representation in the SNI. The selection committees were appointed by the Secretary and the Academia. Its highest authority, the Consejo Directivo, includes the Secretary, the President of the Academia, the Director of the National Research Council (CONACYT), an Executive Secretary, and two other academics. At the present time it benefits some six thousand.

The SNI carried out a political and ideological discrimination since its beginnings, excluding some well known social scientists and philosophers, such as David Barkin, Enrique Dussel, Emilio Pradilla, Juan Castaingts, Asa C. Laurell and others, and some institutions or sections of institutions, for example the Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas and the School of Economics of the UNAM, plus the social sciences Divisions of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), the second largest federal university in Mexico City. We might call it some kind of localized low intensity McCarthyism. It is localized because it does not affect all fields but only the social sciences. Unlike the American case, or the repression carried out by the South American dictatorships, it does neither kill, nor imprison, nor run people out of their jobs, it has the more modest aim of trying to intimidate, marginalize and delegitimize their research. Since the evaluations are not made public, no one has to know, provided that the victims do not denounce their unfairness.

There was a considerable resistance against the SNI during its initial period, but it has subsided, in part because in recent years this discrimination has diminished in the cases of its most visible victims, such as those mentioned, but it has continued against institutions such as the already mentioned School of Economics and Institute of Economics Research. It has been facilitated by a non-representative make up of the selection committees (Comisiones Dictaminadoras) in the area of the social sciences, which became even more extreme in the case of the more recently created appeals committees (Comisiones Dictaminadoras Revisoras, CDR). They have been dominated by two smaller graduate schools closely tied to the government, the already mentioned Colegio de México and the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE), considered rather conservative institutions, and by the Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas of the UNAM. The latter includes several former government high officials: two former Ministers of the Interior, and three former Attorney Generals, some of obscure academic achievements. The representation of some other institutions has been extremely minor or non-existent. Such is the case of most schools of the UNAM, of the social sciences divisions of the UAM, and of state universities. No reasons have been given for this privileged situation of some institutions and marginalization of others, but there are reasons for believing that the real reasons are political: loyalty to the government apparatus and a predisposition against its critics. A recent scientiometric study of the scientific productivity of Mexican academic economists shows that the most productive group belongs to a state university, the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, while there are no important differences between the privileged Colegio de México and CIDE vs. the already mentioned marginalized School of Economics and Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas of the UNAM.

This discrimination also operates in other areas. For example in the award of the National Prizes and UNAM Prizes in the social sciences area; in the make up of a list of excellence research magazines by the CONACYT; and in the criteria for evaluating graduate programs by the same agency, which determines whether it will give fellowships for such programs.


My Struggle against Academic Lawlessness

I have a Ph.D. in Metallurgy and Materials Science from the University of Pennsylvania. I have published thirteen research papers in physics and materials science, including the most cited paper on solar photovoltaic by a Latin American researcher. Starting around 1980, I became a professor at the Departamento El Hombre y su Ambiente (Man and Environment) at the Xochimilco campus of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana. My main research interests have been in energy, technology and environmental sciences, and also on science policy and history of science. My work has been praised by some of the best known Mexican scientists, such as sociologists Rodolfo Stavenhagen and Larissa Adler, and by the physicist Luis De La Peña; and by several well known foreign scientists, such as environmental studies scholar Kristin Shrader Frechette, and science policy authors such as John Ziman and the late Derek De Solla Price. I am the first and, as far as I know only one Latin American scientist who published a paper on environmental history in an international magazine; the first and as far as I know only one in publishing a research paper on nuclear safety and nuclear accidents; the first in publishing a paper on the problematique of science in Mexico in an international magazine; the first in publishing a single author book on the same subject - there have been several compilations. I have been a Mellon Fellow at the Science, Technology and Society Program of MIT; I acted as a referee for the National Foundation and for an international magazine. Last year I was accepted as a member of the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias.

In spite of this background, my applications for admission at the SNI were rejected several times, on the basis of "insufficient productivity". The last time a regulation has been established on a minimum number of five papers published, giving more weight to international refereed publications and magazines within the list of excellence of the CONACYT. I have more than thirty, including research notes. Three have been published in international refereed magazines, five in magazines that belong to this already mentioned list. Therefore I could not have been rejected for the same previous reason. I should mention that never had the social sciences selection committee any member with a background in neither energy nor environmental studies. As I was aware of this limitation, I offered them a list of researchers in this area who had agreed to give them an opinion on the quality of my research if asked, among them the already mentioned Dr. Kristin Shrader Frechette and Dr. Allan Schnaiberg, of Northwestern University. The selection committee did not get in touch with them, choosing to practice solipsism. They rejected me for "not having a definite research line", and for "insufficient contribution to the formation of human resources". I sent an appeal, several pages long. I should mention that the CDR had an extremely unrepresentative make up: of six members, there were three of the Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas (Jorge Adame, María del Refugio González Domínguez and Marcos Kaplan), two of the Colegio de México (Francisco Alba Hernández and José L.Reyna) and one of the CIDE (Fausto Hernández Trillo). I argued that I did not have one research subject but several, and that the requirement of having just one, as it was an arbitrary and unfounded requirement, represented a violation of academic freedom as established in the Mexican Constitution; and that their mention to insufficient contribution towards the formation of human resources had to refer to graduate students, which did not take into account the situation of my institution, which had few and recent graduate programs, in which I was not given much opportunity to participate. Therefore it would be a form of discriminating against those researchers who work in less favorable conditions. I might have added that the requirement of just one research line would be an obstacle towards studying real problems, which often require an interdisciplinary approach.

The CDR rejected my appeal in a particularly aberrant way. I got a reply of a few lines signed by the Executive Secretary, Jaime Martuscelli, in which he told me that the CDR rejected me for having a "not consistent" production, and that this was ratified by the Consejo Directivo, formed by the then Secretary of Public Education Miguel Limón; the then Director of CONACYT Carlos Bazdresch; the president of the Academia, Dr. René Drucker; Andrés Lira, president of the Colegio de México and José L. Morán López.

Therefore I started a lawsuit (recurso de amparo) against the SNI accusing them of an abuse of power, as no regulation gave them a right to reject me in this way. I argued that the Mexican Constitution establishes that when an authority applies a measure against an individual it has to quote the legal rule which is applied and specify why it is applicable to that particular case.

I should mention that at least two of those mentioned, Adame and Bazdresch, had previously taken repressive positions. In 1980, and on the occasion of a strike of the administrative personnel of the Colegio de México, that was broken by the police, they had signed an anti-strike statement, claiming that the strike interfered with academic freedom. According to their line of thought strikes should be banned in any academic institution.

In the meantime, after the new government took power in December, a new Secretary of Public Education, Dr. Reyes Tamez Guerra, and a new CONACYT director, Alfonso Serrano Pérez-Grovas, had been appointed. Tamez' and Serrano's lawyers plus the CDR members have tried several legal tricks to defend in court this inexcusable action of their predecessors. Tamez's lawyers told the judge that the previous Consejo Directivo was not informed. This statement is in a blatant contradiction with an official document, i.e. Martuscelli's letter. If it were true, it would mean that the CDR decision is illegal, as according to the regulations it has to be ratified by the Consejo. The CDR members wrote the judge telling her that they were private citizens and not public officials. The meaning of their tricks was clear. Since the Consejo was not informed, and those responsible are private citizens, therefore there is no authority, no one is responsible, and no one committed an abuse of power.

Serrano's lawyers argued that the SNI depended on CONACYT, which is nonsense, as CONACYT does not appoint its Consejo. The law establishes that CONACYT is no authority, because it only awards fellowships and prizes: no one has any right to a legal action because he or she have not been awarded a prize. Therefore the plaintiff would be in the situation of someone who goes to court because he or she has not been awarded a prize. Of course this is not the case, as prizes are usually awarded to a very small number, this peculiar prize having been awarded to six thousand, representing not just an occasional given amount but a substantial contribution to their income for many years.

I wrote Drucker, reminding him that the Academia, as the only scientific society represented in the SNI, could not become an accomplice in violating the rights of a scientist. He answered that he had to respect the autonomy of the Comisiones Dictaminadoras. This is a groundless argument, because this autonomy was established in order to prevent improper pressures, and not for allowing abuses of power. What they pretend is to keep the Comisiones as a fief of priistas and Conservatives, defending their right to act in a dictatorial way, meaning that the regulations apply when and if they are willing, free of any external control and of any accountability. This is even more inexcusable if we consider that the SNI is a government agency that controls important financial resources. Therefore they are protecting the continuation of the former government party authoritarian style, for which the law was only a façade that might be disregarded at any time. The support given to this aberration by the new authorities shows that very little can be expected from them, and that in the terrain of ethics and intellectual responsibility they are worth as much as the previous ones: they started their term in office by validating one of the worst aberrations in the history of the SNI.

The central issue lies in the intolerance of the priista and Conservative cliques against any radical critique in the areas of environmental and energy studies, even less if they are dealing with someone who took a militant position on nuclear power. They defend their right to act in both an arbitrary and opaque way, lacking in both ethics and intellectual responsibility. The struggle against this disgusting authoritarianism is therefore a struggle for science, for academic freedom, for the right to carry out research on the most important problems that affect millions and the future generations, a kind of science for which its commitment to truth might play a destabilizing role vis a vis the dominant ideologies and political practices. It is a struggle against those who pretend that they promote something that looks like science but becomes reduced to an apologetics of power, supposedly valuable because it focuses on minor problems and gives benevolent advice or recipes for a more efficient operation of government policies. It is also a struggle for democracy, because democracy does not only imply the freedom to vote or free speech and so on, but respect for ideological plurality, transparency, respect for the law and accountability, even more when we are dealing with the management of large public resources.

Those who would like to express their solidarity with this author could write to both the Secretary of Public Education and the President of the Academia Mexicana de Ciencias. Their addresses are the following:

His Excellency the Secretary of Public Education, Dr. Reyes Tamez Guerra, República Argentina 28, Centro Histórico, México 06029, DF, MEXICO; fax 52-55212095, e mail: rtamez@sep.gob.mx.

Dr. René Drucker, president, Academia Mexicana de Ciencias, Avenida San Jerónimo 260, Colonia Jardines del Pedregal, México 04500, tel 52-55503906 fax 52-55501143, e mail: drucker@servidor.unam.mx.

Please send copies to Mauricio Schoijet, Rancho Altamira 72, Los Sauces-Coyoacán, México 04940, DF, MÉXICO; tel and fax 52-56777428, e mail: schoijet@prodigy.net.mx