Privateers: four hundred years of Chilean universities (1622-2022)

10th March 2022 : 14:00 - 15:00

Category: Webinar

Speaker: Pete Leihy, Universidad Andrés Bello

Location: Zoom webinar, registration required

Audience: Public

One place’s pirate may be another place’s hero. The Englishman Francis Drake is a case in point. Before he would see off the Spanish Armada in 1588, Drake had been credentialed as a privateer, harassing the ports and shipping lanes of the Spanish empire, including along the Chilean coast. What does this have to do with universities?

Certainly, universities around the world are averse to accusations of piracy, even when their marketing and media theatrics are at their most rapacious. Indeed, universities go to great lengths to tell us how public-spirited they are, especially insofar as they and their people receive state monies and other privileges. Chilean higher education is now poised at a compelling moment. In the context of the drafting of a new constitution, on 11 March (tomorrow) youthful former student leader Gabriel Boric assumes the republic’s presidency, with issues such as debt forgiveness and the re-negotiation of institutional autonomy on the legislative agenda.

Boric’s backstory is anchored in protest against the rough nature of the expansion of higher education over recent decades, including more market-savvy and managerial approaches in both public and private universities. Demand for and supply of professions as to the public value of universities soared during the 2010s, as if to assuage the level of private interest leveraged in the rapid expansion of participation in recent decades. It is understandable that universities are sensitive about their appeal to public support, but it may be an illuminating provocation to imagine them openly as pirates – perfectly capable of threatening public order even as they tend and reproduce belief. To mark four hundred years of institutions called universities in Chile, beginning a half-century after Drake’s visit, rather than solemnly asserting their civilising influence, this seminar will examine the piratical side of Chilean universities past and present.

Along with a chronological overview and review of landmark scholarly works, the presentation will explore for themes of ongoing relevance:

  • Notions of civilisation in the installation of university projects;
  • Institutionality and higher education’s role in Chile’s founding;
  • Democratisation, with different university cultures considered as a kind of privileged avant garde; and
  • Apology, or the capacity to assess and redress iniquities stemming from what is still living memory, in the context of massification, feminisation and technological metamorphosis.

This examination of Chilean universities’ private sides might contribute to thinking about how universities operate everywhere.

This webinar is part of the free public seminar programme hosted by the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE).