Almost a month before the end of the second academic semester, authorities of the National Polytechnic University (UNP) – formerly Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI) – dismissed professors of different careers on a massive scale. This has left the student body uncertain about their grades and classes, active UNP students told DIVERGENTES.
“They fired four professors in my major and we haven’t had classes for two weeks. The university hasn’t told us anything, they only told us that three of those classes are going to go virtual, but we still don’t know when they will resume. In a couple of weeks we have our final exams and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Sara, a second year Economics and Business student.
“They recently fired an Art History professor who was very good. I switched to Saturday and they also fired the teacher on the Saturday before the end of the course. We had a product exhibition that involved spending money on materials, and we weren’t informed that this would happen,” reveals another student of Integral Communication Design.
On October 12, the newspaper La Prensa reported the dismissal of 70 UNP workers who worked in administrative services such as the academic registry and the legal office, as well as professors from different faculties.
Employees said that the dismissal was justified under Article 45 of the Labor Code, which allows unjustified dismissals with a severance payment.
Dismissals were ordered by the National Council of Universities (CNU) to the UNP authorities, in retaliation because the officials did not attend party activities organized by the Sandinista Front (Frente Sandinista).
The system got out of control when the dictatorship took over Upoli
Sara, who excitedly began her degree in 2022 at Upoli, says that the dismissal of professors and constant class cancellations have been recurrent since the Ortega-Murillo regime canceled the university’s legal status and installed the new pro-government administration at the UNP in February 2022.
“I enrolled in UPOLI in 2021 and I never imagined all this would happen. I only received two weeks of normal classes, when the cancellation happened. In the first semester of last year, a professor of my degree was fired and we spent almost a month not receiving that class”, says the 21 year old girl.
Sara‘s classroom didn’t receive three sessions of that class, since last year classes were by sessions, and she only went to the university three days a week.
“We would just hang out and do nothing,” says the student
In the first two sessions, the course coordinator came to ” fill in” for the professor, but he did not teach any of the curriculum lessons. “We just did nothing,” says Sara. And at the third session, the coordinator simply told the group not to come to the university.
This year, firings increased in Sara‘s degree program. In the first semester of 2023, again another professor was fired, who was replaced by a professor from the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua).
“In the first semester of this year they fired the Mathematics for Administration professor. He only taught three classes and then sent us a message that he was no longer going to continue teaching. Then they changed him for a professor from UNAN, who was the one we finished the semester with,” she says.
Last October 9, the dismissal of four professors from the Economics and Business course was reported, but it also happened with other courses at the university, says Sara. “I guess they are making changes, but there is an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability,” she says.
Fired professors replaced by UNAN-Managua professors
From 2022 to October 2023, the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship cancelled the legal status of 28 higher education institutions in the country. These cancellations include their real estate confiscation, and the replacement of names and administrations, which are elected by the National Council of Universities.
For the most part, the new people who come to replace the academic authorities or the dismissed faculty are personnel loyal to the dictatorship who worked for UNAN-Managua, says Adrián Meza, former rector of Paulo Freire University (UPF), now confiscated and called Ricardo Morales Avilés University.
The last case was that of Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), now called Universidad Nacional Casimiro Sotelo, whose new rector is Alejandro Enrique Genet Cruz. Before being appointed as rector of former UCA, Genet was dean of the Department of Education and Language at UNAN-Managua for more than two decades, and a professor at that institution since the 1980s.
These changes in administration and faculty at the confiscated universities have caused administrative problems for students, who fall behind with their class plans, says Meza; but it has also meant a saturation of work for remaining professors, as they cannot cope with so many students.
“We have seen that registration problems, problems with the designation of class schedules or professors for these classes, are a constant in these new universities,” he says. The impact is always on the quality of teaching and education of the student body, he adds.
No adequate platform for assignments
Since the dismissal of her four professors on October 9, Sara has received only one class on the 18th of this month. Only two professors left semester grades ready, but the other two have not been heard from. She also doesn’t know if the exams planned for the end of October will take place.
“From the Marketing professor we know nothing. She did not even give a statement, we found out that she was fired by the president of the group. We don’t know if she finished the evaluations. The professor who gave us Negotiation just left the WhatsApp group. We don’t know if he checked the work we did or if he left everything ready,” she says.
This is made worse because the UNP now does not have a virtual platform for teachers to upload material on days of absence, since the Virtual Learning Environment (EVA) that Upoli used to have was removed by the new administration.
Instead, it was replaced by Google Classroom for assignments, which is not used by all faculty, and WhatsApp groups, which are used only for communications.
“Upoli had a very good platform and I could only use it for a week, because then they took it down. There is not even a platform for teachers to upload material on days when there were no classes or to practice. It’s a terrible lack of control,” says Sara.
No homework, assignments or didactic material
Meanwhile, Ana, a student of Integral Communication Design, says that her professors no longer leave her projects to do at home, because there is no adequate platform for submissions. So, she has to do her internships only at the university.
The 21-year-old says that the students are also left to the luck of the teachers who are committed to using the platform and sharing didactic material.
“We no longer have the ordered teaching material. Some teachers don’t even share the material and there is less interaction with teachers on Google Classroom. Sometimes they upload documents via WhatsApp and they get lost. It’s a mess,” she says.
Students forced to do projects for the Managua City Hall
Ana also says that Communication students are forced to design and advertise projects for the Managua City Hall as part of their assignments, despite the fact that such work was not included in their syllabus.
“Now our final project is linked to a project of the mayor’s office called ‘creative cities’, where we were given assignments not in accordance with our curriculum. They make us do publicity for this project and they are not well thought out for our study plans, they are only adapting them,” she says.
The problem with these projects is not only that they are controlled by the Sandinista government, but also that they entail advanced knowledge for Ana‘s course, and in their execution, the students learn little or nothing about their career. Moreover, the students cannot refuse to participate in them either.
“The projects are quite deficient. I feel that in the design area is where we’ve had the most changes, because we’re quite involved in the mayor’s office and government projects. We’re told that it’s voluntary, but in some things it’s not. There aren’t any activities that don’t involve something from the government,” she says.
Students do not know whether to continue studying
The dismissal of professors in the Economics and Business program caused three of the classes to move to virtual mode and to change their schedule, so not all students will be able to attend, due to their jobs.
“We were not receiving classes on Fridays, now we are going to. Not all my classmates are going to be able to receive the classes. I have a classmate who works at the Oriental market on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and he is going to miss that class. They are not respecting the schedules that were established with respect to the enrollment for the semester”, says Sara.
This is the second time that Sara is trying to do a university degree. She previously studied Public and International Relations at UNAN-Managua, but due to the politicization and constant propaganda of the Ortega-Murillo regime at that university, she decided to drop out in her second year and transfer to what was then UPOLI.
In March of this year, her mother was granted humanitarian parole by the United States. However, Sara decided not to go with her to finish her degree. Now she does not know if it is worth continuing at UNP.
“It is disappointing to study here. There is no projector, we were two weeks without electricity and since it was raining, we couldn’t see anything in the classroom. I feel that the university does not provide the necessary tools to study, nor does it offer stability,” she says.
Uncertainty permeates every classroom at UNP, while the Ortega-Murillo regime continues to add to its list of confiscated universities as time goes by.