On May 9, a tear gas grenade sowed panic among hundreds of students gathered in an amphitheater at Tomas Frias University in Potosi (south).
The stampede left four dead, more than 70 injured and sparked controversy over the role of student union leader Max Mendoza, 52, 33 of whom passed with a student card.
In more than three decades, he has not obtained any diploma in the various courses in which he has been enrolled, as denounced by the deputy of the ruling party, Héctor Arce, who brandishes Max Mendoza’s notebook: since 1989 he has failed over 200 subjects and finished over 100 times with a zero mark as the final grade.
This academic record did not deprive him of pocketing a monthly salary of 21,860 bolivianos (about 3,150 dollars, similar to that of a rector) because he was also at the head of the Executive Committee of the Bolivian University which coordinates the establishments higher education institutions in the country.
Amid investigations into the Potosi tragedy, versions have begun to circulate about the role of the current president of the Bolivian University Confederation among the warring groups during the deadly General Assembly.
Max Mendoza was remanded in custody on May 21, charged with various offences.
– “Profiters” –
But the case of Max Mendoza is only the tip of the iceberg of thousands of “dinosaur” students, a term “used for years” in the student community and now “popularized at the national level”, explains Beymar Quisberth, studying sociology at the Universidad Mayor San Francisco Xabier de Sucre, the oldest university in the country.
According to local media, many student leaders stretch out their studies to keep their jobs and the benefits that come with them.
Alvaro Quelali, a 37-year-old student union leader from the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (UMSA), in La Paz, is supposed to have studied for 20 years.
“They are profiteers, it’s a shame,” says Gabriela Paz, 20, a student at the Faculty of Law and Political Science, while her classmate Mateo Siles, 21, says “these people stay in universities public places to give alms”.
UMSA public university rector Oscar Heredia points out that not only have student leaders been at the university for many years, but also thousands of ordinary students.
Of the 81,723 students at UMSA, 23% (18,796) have been studying for more than 11 years and 6.7% (5,475) for more than 20 years. A thousand have been registered for more than 30 years and a hundred for more than 40 years…
“This is a question that concerns us, but which is the subject of great debate,” said Heredia to AFP.
Karen Apaza, engineering student at UMSA and activist against these eternal student leaders, rails against “these dinosaurs who have lived for more than 20 years on the back of the university”.
The same observations are also made elsewhere.
Gabriel René Moreno University in Santa Cruz (east) has about 90,000 students, 3% of whom (about 2,700) have been there for more than 10 years.
Guido Zambrana, professor of medicine at UMSA, affirms the need to “recognize that we are going through a deep crisis”. He recommends a sweeping sweep and “to dismantle the whole structure of corruption, mismanagement, co-management (teachers-students) which has been deteriorating for decades”.
And for him, “the university is obsolete, anachronistic, it no longer responds to the current situation” in Bolivia.