FEC - A Forgotten School

Open sewage and rampant crime are but two of the many issues signaling the deplorable state of one of Venezuela's premier public universities. Here's a first-hand account.

Translated by Javier Liendo

The Experimental School of Science (FEC) of Zulia University (LUZ) has been completely closed for eight months, without any sort of academic activity. I’m a student at that school, and also a student leader, although I don’t belong to any political party or wish to start a political career.

It was the FEC’s situation that inspired me to become a student leader, and specifically the strike organized by professors from the School of Mathematics in January of 2014. While the rest of the schools were working, the School of Mathematics wouldn’t, because they were assigned classrooms in the “galpones”, a derelict building, which was abandoned in 2013 due to crime. A month’s worth of classes was lost, and that delayed the end of the semester for any of us studying math-related subjects.

I never imagined that leadership would be easy, but I wasn’t prepared for the tag-team of students’ indifference coupled with the terrible state of the facilities.

Most students didn’t seem to care. Nobody did anything. That convinced me that if I didn’t do something, nobody would. That’s why I became an activist and joined a small independent group in my faculty, Computer Science. The strike came a month before the protests of February 2014. Since then, the school of Science has gone through several crises, in which I’ve done what I could to solve the issues.
Fortunately I’ve found help in honest people among the deans, as well as other activists and students.

There are more than 5,000 Science students, many of whom don’t want to be in the school in the first place. They ended up in here after having failed to make the cut for more attractive careers like Medicine and Engineering. Once they complete the minimum requirement of eight subjects approved for career change, they stop coming to class, although they keep signing up for more subjects in order to avoid expulsion. That’s LUZ’s only requirement for not being expelled, because the Supreme Court nullified the previous “Reglamento del Repitiente” after a few chavista students protested when they were expelled under that rule.

The result is a school where students’ sense of belonging and their commitment to fight to support the declining infrastructure and education level are almost non-existent, even among students who do want to pursue a scientific career. I never imagined that leadership would be easy, but I wasn’t prepared for the tag-team of students’ indifference coupled with the terrible state of the facilities.

Let me elaborate: there are three building complexes in the FEC, pretty apart from one another -with all the personal safety risks this implies-, the four Modules, Grano de Oro’s old airport, and blocks A1-A2 of Biology. Biology dates back to the 80’s, while the other two complexes are very old buildings. The Modules were built in the 70’s, Grano de Oro in 1929. All of them are in deplorable condition due to lack of maintenance, resources and, above all, constant robberies.

If these old pipes aren’t repaired, contact with flammable material will cause an explosion.

Let me explain further.

The Modules are four, two story rectangular buildings. Out of all the buildings, they’re in the worst condition, because this is the area of the school most affected by crime. Most of the classrooms have no air conditioning. Module 2 has some broken sewer pipes which are leaking water that could reach several underground wires that go to the old laboratory. Professor Beatriz González has warned that in case these old pipes aren’t repaired, contact with flammable material will cause an explosion.

How can a laboratory work without air conditioning? Just imagine the horrible experience of studying in a normal classroom in the year-round sweltering Tierra del Sol Amada.

In the Biology blocks, refrigeration depends on chillers that are several decades old, which constantly malfunction. They’d already malfunctioned during the technical strike of March 2015. In fact, they should’ve been replaced years ago. Today, such a replacement is impossible -there’s no chance to find the dollars needed.

Crime has also taken a toll on Biology. One afternoon I went to the library to look for something -it’s located in an annex of block A2- but it was closed. I then went to block A1 to ask what was wrong. They told me that a bus had been hijacked by malandros in a small alley between the two blocks. Fortunately, they couldn’t see me because of the vegetation and the trees covering the space between two walls, belonging to each block respectively, that open up a bit further away.

I went to the first floor, where there’s a small panoramic window, to verify the situation for myself. Indeed, there the armed malandros were, and I walked away fast when I saw them arguing, although I felt a cold calm, as if whether I lived or died was all the same to me. I felt at peace with God and I guess I never really believed I was going to die -a bizarre feeling much like how I felt the last time I was robbed a year and a half ago.

I then walked fast and silently with other students through the path that lies between Grano de Oro and the Biology blocks, and got to my class in the “yellow building” -the nickname students have for Grano de Oro’s old airport.

This institutional video shows how new students are officially welcomed to the school:

Grano De Oro isn’t so bad. It’s a relatively safe building, although in mid 2015, the air conditioners of one of the Computer Science labs were stolen. It’s in decline as well, though. I go to my Programming classes there. Internet in those labs is slooooow, worse still than ABA in average. The water tank has a hole the size of a golf ball that has to be constantly patched, and the old water pump likes to break down too.

Sounds pretty ugly, doesn’t it? That’s not all. The Chemistry School didn’t finish its semester in January 2016 due to lack of reagents -even though the rest of the schools finished on July 2015. A delay of one month. A fucking month.

All of this plus, professors’ strikes of 2013 and 2015, plus the protests of 2014, plus the technical strike on March 2015, plus the Mathematics professors’ strike on January 2014, means that we’ve effectively finished only one semester per year in 2014 and 2015. That’s why we’re protesting against the present technical strike, which has already lasted five weeks. If the national situation doesn’t drastically change soon, the Experimental School of Science will probably be one of the first to collapse completely.

Recent protest (you can see me in this one):

I know there’s small room for hope in a simple blog post. But don’t get me wrong: despite the mess, there are some of us who are still fighting for our school, our education and the country’s future. The horizon doesn’t look promising, but we’re not going to give up all the same.