The intellectuals who joined the Bolivarian movement desired
to create a viable alternative to the mainstream public universities
and the domination in the educational field of market-oriented
private institutions from the West. Mision Sucre
allowed half a million extra students to attend university.
Since 2008, however, the Ministry of Higher Education has
started implementing a new policy, Mision Alma Mater.
In its rationale the latter went against the main principles
of UBV such as decentralization, predominance of social sciences
in the curriculum, and relative administrative autonomy from
the state. Ministry experts have also started accusing UBV
professors of vanguardism, as well as reproducing Eurocentric
university models and traditional hierarchies.
These accusations have highlighted the dilemma that illuminates the problematic role of intellectuals in socialist societies. UBV professors face a choice between becoming a functionary intellectual clique of a centralizing state, and succumbing to a role of critical opposition that stands little or no chance of carrying out profound social reform. The university they have created to perform a radical social change is at crossroads: it either has to succumb to the new trend dictated to serve the new national plans of the socialist state, or to become yet another traditional university with no claim to perform radical reform. I ask if an inclusive and radical project of social change can be implemented in the locus and by the agents of a traditional and exclusive institution such as the university.
By grounding empirically the theoretical puzzle addressed by my project, my research will allow me to explain if and why academic intellectuals stand a better chance of becoming the main tool in the reproduction of academic distinctions rather than creating sustainable social change. Perhaps there are characteristics of intellectual fields that prevent structural change from being conducted by their agents. Or one can hypothesize that a modern, Western institution such as the university with its intrinsic hierarchies and relation to political and economic power may easily succumb to institutional isomorphism (DiMaggio&Powell 1991).
Venezuela and the specific case of UBV offer a rich setting for such an investigation. Situated in a post-colonial space, the oil-rich socialist country challenges social stratification both within nationals and between countries. UBV represents a unique case of intellectuals' relation to state power. The Bolivarian Republic provides the rhetorical framework and institutional support for intellectuals to subvert their own distinctions, the Eurocentric values and neoliberal norms of higher education, within a nation state project. These intellectuals are expected to provide a new model of globalization. There a reformed university is seen as an agent of social change. Alternative higher education is to develop the potential productive cooperation between people that eventually - to cut across oppressive social structures as nation states.