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Bolsonaro’s War against Academic Freedom

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

In May 2019, thousands of scientists, educators, and students in more than 200 cities around Brazil swamped the streets to protest cuts in education and research funding, expressing serious concern about Bolsonaro’s education agenda. At that time, we reported with alarm on Bolsonaro’s pervasive attempts to gain control of the selection of senior administrators in the federal university system.

Photo: Reuters

Notorious for his attacks on women, BIPOC, and LGBTQI+ people, Bolsonaro has declared that “leftists will have to leave the country or go to jail.” Before assuming office, he and his party encouraged a witch-hunt-style campaign, the School Without Party—a conservative movement that encouraged high school and university students to covertly film and denounce teachers for “ideological indoctrination.” Since he took office, the initiative has only gained momentum and has led to the introduction of dozens of similarly exclusionary bills in Congress. In addition, the federal government has taken an increasingly active role since January 2020 in censoring textbooks that reach public schools in order to endorse conservative principles and denounce more progressive approaches. Bolsanaro’s increasing attempts to censor institutions of higher learning has had the effect of decreasing institutional autonomy, which his administration has described as a way to curb “left-wing influence,” particularly in the process of selecting university rectors and administrators.

Bolsonaro’s outspoken bias against the humanities and social sciences has also led to sharp budget cuts that his administration has imposed on public higher education institutions through the “Future-se” Program to hamper liberal arts education within the university system. In 2019, the budget of federal universities was cut by 30 percent specifically in the areas of liberal arts, nearly bringing the system to bankruptcy and stirring up a broad wave of protests across the country. Since June 2020, the government has gone even further, announcing a massive cut of 4 billion reais (an additional 18 percent reduction) in university operating budgets, which is certain to even further damage humanities and social science departments. Students have circulated images of darkened hallways leading to bathrooms without soap or toilet paper, a further unwelcoming and deterrent environment for students who are pursuing higher education.

We stand in solidarity with the students and faculty of Brazilian universities and join academic, intellectual, and political leaders in Brazil and elsewhere to decry this attack on the country’s universities in the name of Bolsonaro’s wider aggressive, anti-progressive, and fascistic agenda.

We call upon all European governments, the United States Department of State, international organizations, university presidents, academic and professional associations, student groups, and individuals devoted to the promotion and defense of human rights to protest and condemn these populist attacks on the pillars of Brazil’s democracy and education system.

Please send appeals to the following:

Todd C. Chapman

Ambassador of the United States to Brazil

Embassy of the United States to Brazil

Rua Henri Dunant

500 Chácara Santo Antônio

São Paulo- SP, 04709-110


Fax: +55 11 5181 8730

Koumbou Boly-Barry

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

Palais des Nations

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Irene Khan

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Palais des Nations

CH-1211 Geneva 10


Fax: +41 22 917 9006

Josep Borrell

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security


European Commission

Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200

1049 Brussels


Marija Pejčinović Burić

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Council of Europe

Avenue de l'Europe

F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex


Fax: + 33 3 88 41 27 99

Christophe Poirel

Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law

Council of Europe

Avenue de l'Europe

F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex


Fax: + 33 3 88 41 27 99



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