Universidad del Mar and
Universidad Tecnologica de la
On 30 Mar 1997 the following article appeared in the Usenet newsgroup
soc.culture.mexican. It was published in the Christian Science Monitor
on 3/31/97; by Monitor correspondent Howard LaFranchie:
Like the thousands of young men who have left this poor, rocky
corner of southern Mexico to find work in the United States, Jorge
Ceballes Gonzalez once thought his future lay in making the same trek
But then someone planted a small technical university on a hillside
above his town [Huajuapan de León], and the young man whose goal is to become Mexico's
Bill Gates found his dreams turning in a new direction.
"Eventually our goal is to create software that fills the special
needs of businesses in Mexico,'' says Mr. Ceballes, who along with
classmate Martin Ramirez started a storefront computer consulting
company in this town of 120,000 in Oaxaca state. "A few years ago I
would have said I had no choice but to follow my family'' - parents
and four brothers and sisters - "to work in California. But because
of the university, I've already got a small start in my own town.''
The school Ceballes refers to is the Universidad Tecnologica de la
Mixteca, where he is a fourth- year computer science student. La
Mixteca University is a small school with a big order: to serve as an
instrument of development for a poverty-ridden region of southern
Mexico. Along with its sister Universidad del Mar (UMar) on Oaxaca's
Pacific coast, la Mixteca aims to bring higher learning to a poorly
educated and increasingly unstable part of Mexico.
Although one might not guess it, the stakes are high for both
Mexico and the US, as well as for la Mixteca's and UMar's 800-odd
"These two universities can be very important stabilizing factors
for this state,'' says Modesto Seara Vasquez, a long-time educator who
developed the schools and serves as their rector. Noting that Oaxaca
has one of Mexico's highest migratory rates and is home to Mexico's
newest guerrilla group - the Popular Revolutionary Army, Mr. Seara
says, "Without this kind of alternative, the young people from here
will either migrate - or ...find themselves drawn to extremes.''
At a time when rural Mexico is unsettled by the effects of
modernization and globalized agricultural trade, the two schools could
serve as a model to keep young people from leaving for Mexico's cities
or the US. One of the schools' innovations: a pre-entrance course,
which in some cases prepares promising but academically lagging
students. In other cases, the idea is simply to keep in the area young
people who might leave before school started - and never come back.
Through Mixteca's emphasis on computer sciences, electronics, and
biotechnology, and UMar's focus on marine ecology, aquaculture, and
tourism, the two schools aim to create young professionals and work
with the local population on projects designed to add value to local
products and create jobs.
Students and university researchers work with farmers to slow the
state's severe erosion and are introducing intensive vegetable
gardening to villages that before only herded goats. UMar's labs have
developed a tangy, fish-based snack served at hotels in the posh sea
resort of Huatulco. The labs raise tens of thousands of shrimp to feed
the area's nascent fish-farming industry.
But the two schools also stand apart from other Mexican public
universities because they put into practice the educational theories
of Seara, who calls Mexico's public higher education system a
"disaster'' and a "failure.''
A Spaniard with 30 years' experience, Seara states his case
succinctly: "With the telecommunications revolution, schools are no
longer the primary source of information,'' he says. "Television,
remote classrooms, the Internet can convey information. The role of
schools now, and universities especially, should be to impart the
morals and principles we want for our society.''
Even though these are technical schools, all students must take
philosophy courses and read one novel a month - to be selected from an
approved reading list. Professors must spend at least eight hours a
day on campus, and students must attend at least 80 percent of classes
to qualify to pass final exams. Politics, either in the form of
rallies or student organizations, are banned.
"I oppose the university as [social] critic,'' says Seara. "You
end up with absurdities like students critiquing a professor's lesson
plan, when they know little about the topic being taught.''
He also opposes free education - although 90 percent of students
are on scholarship, and the poorest receive a daily food allowance.
"The wealthy should pay for what is a very expensive service,'' he
says, "while the poor should be paid to improve their condition.''
Students say the atmosphere can be spartan, but many seem to
appreciate it. "It's a relief to attend a place that doesn't have all
the political problems of most of the other universities I know
about,'' says Francisco Benitez, a marine biology major.
Yet while faculty members frequently refer to the two schools as a
"little miracle'' - the two operate on a little more than $3 million
annually between them - the jury is still out on how successful they
will be at bringing real change to the region.
Mixteca English teacher Patrick Rafferty says resistance to change
will be stiff. "Most of the local businesses are very content with
the status quo,'' he says, pointing out that businesses have learned
to do quite well on dollars sent back by migrants in the US. "They
aren't going to want to see any change in what for them is a sure
What the region needs, observers say, is new industry to keep the
educated population at home. "It's important that a project like
[these schools] focus not only on education, but on drawing employers
who can put these newly developed talents to good use on the spot,''
says Carlos Campusano, director of the electronics department at the
Autonomous University of Puebla.
Seara couldn't agree more. La Mixteca has already set aside 84
acres for an industrial park, and the school is in contact with many
Mexican and American companies. But the park still has no takers: Poor
infrastructure and the site's isolated location make the task
But Seara is still confident of success. "Yes there are problems,
but we have already planted the seed'' of change, he says. "If just
10 percent of our graduates stay here, the groundwork will have been
done for a revolutionary change in the region.''
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