January 19, 1970: Simón Bolívar University’s Inauguration

One of the biggest universities in Caracas has been around for almost half a century. Today, we look back on how it was founded.

Photo: My Lab Journal blog, retrieved.

President Raúl Leoni founded the Simón Bolívar University by decree on July 1, 1967, after a commission appointed by his government advised it. Back then, it was called University of Caracas. The commission included Luis Manuel Peñalver, Luis Manuel Carbonell, Mercedes Fermín, Miguel Ángel Pérez and Héctor Isava.

In the late 60s, it was clear that a country with close to nine million inhabitants (the National Census of 1961 had counted 7,200,000 inhabitants, in round numbers) was going to need new and modern universities. Hence, the foundation of this academy, initially aimed exclusively at technical and scientific careers, later gaining a more universal curriculum, with the creation of Architecture and Urbanism, Liberal Studies and Economy at undergraduate level (postgraduate studies were already offered in Political Science, Philosophy and Literature). Therefore, the USB has advanced from a technical to a university profile.

On December 30, 1968, Leoni appointed its first authorities. The rector was Eloy Lares Martínez, the vice-rector was Francisco Kerdel Vegas and the secretary was Miguel Ángel Pérez. Later, when Rafael Caldera took on the Presidency of the Republic (1969-1974), there was a heated controversy about the university’s name. Jesús María Bianco, then rector of Central University of Venezuela, argued before the National Council of Universities that that was the UCV’s initial name and, therefore, the new university had to be named differently; it was part of the first Venezuelan university’s foundational past. Considering this, President Caldera issued the decree for the creation of Simón Bolívar University on July 9, 1969. Days later, on July 15, he appointed Ernesto Mayz Vallenilla as founding rector, ratified Francisco Kerdel Vegas as academic vice-rector and designated Federico Rivero Palacio as administrative vice-rector.

The USB has advanced from a technical to a university profile.

The USB was an experimental university and it remained so until the decree issued on July 18, 1995; Caldera, this time in his second term, gave it university autonomy. In hindsight, the argument about the name wasn’t as valid as it was originally thought, because the Central University of Venezuela took the name at the dawn of the republican period and it isn’t actually clear that it “owns” a denomination unused for 200 years. Why can’t there be a center for higher studies called University of Caracas?

The Simón Bolívar University’s inauguration ceremony took place on January 19, 1970. There was perfect administrative continuity between the Leoni and Caldera governments, even in the case of the Metropolitan University, its creation was authorized by the Leoni government on February 24, 1965. The inauguration, on October 22, 1970, was attended by Caldera himself, with the enthusiastic patronage of businessman Eugenio Mendoza Goiticoa. As we see, this was a beautiful year for academic life in Venezuela and, next year, the USB will be 50 years old. It has much to celebrate.