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The non-reconstruction of the State University

Putting the nation in peril

Port-au-Prince, February 22, 2012 – Two years after the earthquake, and despite the proposals written, the consortiums organized and the foreign delegations entertained, the University of the State of Haiti (Université d’Etat d’Haïti or UEH) still has not seen any “reconstruction,” and the proposal for a university campus that would unite all 11 faculties remains a 25-year-old “dream.”

Today, the majority of the 13,000 students at the UEH’s faculties in the capital are jammed into sweltering sheds, struggling to hear the professor who is shouting, hoping to drown out the other professors shouting in the surrounding sheds.

Students in a tent "classroom" at the Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Medecine which is next to the land the State University hopes to use for a campus. Photo: HGW

The fact that the Haitian government and its “friends” have not financed the reconstruction – an a sufficient operating budget – of the oldest and most important institution of higher learning in the country represents more than a “peril” to Haiti’s future. These choices – or at least, these omissions – offer perfect examples of the global orientation of the “reconstruction” which is centered on the needs of the national and international private sector, and which favors “answers” to urgent problems that are often palliative “quick-fixes.” Finally, these omissions represent contempt for the public interests of the entire nation.

The dream of a campus – The farce of the IHRC

The disaster of January 12, 2010, destroyed nine of the 11 UEH faculties in the capital. Three hundred and eighty students, and more than 50 professors and administrative staff of UEH disappeared, according to the university and to a study by the Inter-university Institute for Research and Development (INURED), released in March, 2010. (According to the same study, at least 2,000 students and 130 professors in all of the institutions of higher learning died in the catastrophe.)

A building at the former Faculty of Medecine and Pharmacy. Photo: INURED


The Faculty of Applied Linguistics, where 350 students and 18 professors
and staff died.
Source and photo: INURED

Nevertheless, this tragedy offered an opportunity to state university authorities, who are themselves charged with supervising all institutions of higher learning in the country. The members of the Council of the Rectorate saw their chance to make a dream become reality. Twenty-five years ago, in 1987, delegates at the first conference of the National Federation of Haitian Students (FENEH in French) listed a campus as one of their post-dictatorship goals and demands.

“We always wanted a university campus, we really struggled for that,” remembered Rose Anne Auguste in an interview with Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) in July, 2011. Once a FENEH leader, today she is a nurse and community activist.

Over one year ago, the Rectorate submitted a proposal to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the institution charged with approving and coordinating all reconstruction projects.

“Right in its first extraordinary meeting, on February 5, 2010, the University Council decided to face the reconstruction problem… and we voted a resolution asking the Executive Council to take all measures deemed necessary to assure all the University faculties could be rehoused together,” according to the project, which HGW obtained.

“When considered as part of the challenge of reconstruction and of the re-founding of this nation, this project can be seen as a crucial asset of primary importance which will assure a better tomorrow for our population,” the same document continues.

The Rectorate proposed a provisional student and preliminary budget of US$200 million for the construction of the main campus with classroom buildings, libraries, laboratories, restaurants, and university residents to lodge 15,000 students and 1,000 professors on part of the old Habitation Damien land in Croix-des-Bouquets, north of Port-au-Prince.

Area on the northern edge of the capital, reserved for the campus. Credit: UEH proposal

“It’s an old dream,” said Fritz Deshommes, Vice Rector for Research, during an interview with HGW.

“It’s really an aberration… despite the importance of UEH in the higher education system in Haiti, this prestigious institution has never had a campus,” he added.

Following the submission of the project in February, 2011, for months, the IHRC “didn’t respond. We gave a copy to each member of the council… the administrative director promised to call us, but that promise was empty. And they never discussed the proposal,” Deshommes deplored.

Auguste was aware of the project.

Founder of the Association for the Promotion of Integral Family Health (APROSIFA in French), August was a member of the IHRC, representing (without the right to vote) the Haitian “NGOs.”

“The project was never discussed at any IHRC assembly, but every member knew about it. I tried to pressure the administrative council to get the project considered and discussed,” she told HGW.

“According to the project director, there were some technical weaknesses,” she added.


But the IHRC had its own weaknesses, according to a study by the US-based Government Accountability Office or GAO published in May, 2011.

After a year of existence, many projects had been approved but not financed; two out of five departments had no director, and 22 of 34 key posts remained vacant, the GAO noted.

In short, the IHRC was not “yet fully operational… According to U.S. and NGO officials, staffing shortages affected the project review process—a process to determine whether project proposals should be approved for implementation—and communications with stakeholders, such as the Board of Directors,” according to the GAO.

But the IHRC did acknowledge getting the project.

Contacted via email on October 17, 2011 by HGW, ICHR Director of Projects at the time, Aurélie Baoukobza, promised that the campus proposal was under consideration.

“The proposal is currently following the reviewing circuit [sic] and the discussions relative to its approval have not yet been shared,” she wrote.

“Therefore, I cannot discuss this project with the media. The decision of the IHRC and the Government are supposed to be delivered to the submitting parties [the Rectorate] by the end of the week. Only after that official email can I speak about the project,” she promised.

Four days later, on October 21, the mandate of the IHRC expired.


Many years of struggle 

Deshommes was not surprised at the silence, or at the lack of a campus.

“The reason that the university campus has never built is political. Because, if all the students were permanently together in one place, they would have the necessary material conditions to better organize themselves and make their demands heard. Then, they would be able to turn everything upside down. The political authorities understood the importance of this. A single campus is not in their interests,” he said.

As noted above, and not surprisingly, the fight for a campus didn’t start only after the earthquake. As Auguste said, it was born after 1986, the date of the end of the dictatorship of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Ever since a 1960 strike of students at the University of Haiti, François Duvalier established his control over the various faculties. He issued decree on December 16, 1960, creating the “University of the State” in the place of the University of Haiti, whose fascist character was apparently in the various lines of decree. Among other things, it said “considering the necessity to organize the University on new foundations in order to prevent it from transforming into a bastion where subversive ideas would develop…”

Article 9 was even clearer. It noted that any student wanting to enroll in the university had to get a police paper certifying that he or she did not belong to any communist group or any association under suspicion by the State.

These students – from the Gonaives Law School of the UEH, which invited ex-dictator Jean-Caude Duvalier to address their graduation recently – are either terribly uneducated about their own history, or they don't share the democratic spirit of their predecessors, or both. Photo: Le Nouvelliste

After February 7, 1986 – the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier in a US-government chartered airplane – one of the most dominant slogans was “Haiti is free!”

The political uprising that spread throughout the country also extended to the university system. As in other sectors of Haitian national life, professors and students at the university demanded a number of reforms as well as the construction of a campus that would gather together all the faculties sprinkled throughout the capital.

Since then, there has been some progress – the name was changed to UEH, there has been some democratization, the level of teaching has been improved – but lack of financing has paralyzed the institution. The budgets from the last few years show that UEH has never received more than 1 to 1.3 percent of the state budget.

Even worse, the government’s Action Plan for Renewal and Development (PADRN in French), proposed by the René Préval team, asked for only US$60 million for “professional and higher education” as part of its request for $3.864 billion sought for reconstruction – only 1.5 percent of the total.

The new Michel Martelly government showed signs it would increase UEH’s budget but – according to a recent report by AlterPresse, a member of the Haiti Grassroots Watch partnership – the most recent budget dedicates only 1.5 percent to UEH. Currently, several dozen part-time professors are owed salaries for the current and previous semester.

“This budget shows the contempt that our elected officials have for the country’s principal public institution of higher education, as well as their evident desire to weaken it and perhaps even do away with it altogether,” Professor Jean Vernet Henry, Rector of UEH, told AlterPresse in the January 27 article.

“A race between education and catastrophe”

The low funding represents much more than contempt. It represents a danger, a “peril,” according to experts.

A 2000 study funded by the World Bank – Peril and Promise: Higher Education in Developing Countries – sounded the alarm about the lack of investment in public higher education ten years ago.

Since the 1980s, many national governments and international donors have assigned higher education a relatively low priority. Narrow—and, in our view, misleading—economic analysis has contributed to the view that public investment in universities and colleges brings meager returns compared to investment in primary and secondary schools…

As a result, higher education systems in developing countries are under great strain. They are chronically underfunded, but face escalating demand—approximately half of today’s higher education students live in the developing world.

The study looked at enrollment and investment figures in countries around the world (figures from 1995). Here are some extracts, compared with Haitian figures calculated by Haiti Grassroots Watch:



Dominican Republic


Latin America and Caribbean

Sub-Saharan Africa

Higher education enrollment (percentage of university-age population)






Percentage of state budget dedicated to education






Percentage of that amount going to higher education






* Note – The Haiti budget figures are taken from the average between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 fiscal year actual expenses.


Not surprisingly, in terms of enrollment, Haiti is far behind its neighbors, and in terms of investments, Haiti is at the bottom of the list. Even the Dominican Republic, well-known for its failure to invest in higher education, is ahead of Haiti.

The authors of the study – a committee of academics and former ministers headed by the ex-Dean of Harvard University and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town – cited a warning from H.G. Wells:

The chance is simply too great to miss. As H.G. Wells said in The Outline of History,
“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

The “friends of Haiti” support the private sector

At the very moment the proposal for the State University of Haiti campus was locked in a drawer, the Dominican Republic government built a university campus in the north of the country – the King Henry Christophe University. Built in only 18 months, the campus cost US$50 million.

And the universities and government of the “friends of Haiti” countries?

Despite a number of meetings and conferences held abroad and at seaside hotels and at the most expensive conference centers in the country, despite the promises of a number of US universities, through at least two consortia, and despite the promises at the Regional Conference of Rectors and Presidents of the Francophone University Agency (AUF in French) as well as the AUF… most courses are still taught in sheds and temporary buildings.

“We have hosted a lot of universities who are capable of assisting us, but they don’t have the resources to build,” Rector Henry told the magazine Chronicle of Higher Education in an article published last January.

“They can [only] only help us through long-distance courses, scholarships and exchanges,” he added.

A student sits in the yard of the Faculty of Agronomy and Veterinary Science,
which was badly damaged during the earthquake. Several provisional classrooms
have been built and classes also happen in hot crowded tents.
Photo: HGW

In the meantime, at Quisqueya University, a private institution, reconstruction is moving along well. Back in October, the IHRC gave a green light for a project of the Faculty of Medicine, and more recently – last December – the Clinton Bush Fund offered US$914,000 for a “Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.”

“The Center will be a destination for business people of all levels,” the Fund’s Paul Altidor said in an article on the Fund’s website.

The focus of Haiti’s “friends” is clear.

The future in peril

But the study Peril and Promise is also clear, on the necessity to invest in public sector higher education:

Markets require profit and this can crowd out important educational duties and opportunities... The disturbing truth is that these enormous disparities are poised to grow even more extreme, impelled in large part by the progress of the knowledge revolution and the continuing brain drain…

For this reason the Task Force urges policymakers and donors – public and private, national and international – to waste no time. They must work with educational leaders and other key stakeholders to reposition higher education in developing countries.

And that was in 2000.

Have Haitian politicians, donors, and the “citizens” in the north and others trying to take over the King Henry Christophe University read that report?

And Haiti’s past and present governments – who permitted in the past and persist in permitting the deterioration and denigration of a commonly held good, the State University of Haiti – have they been so completely swept away by flood of neoliberal thinking that they don’t see the catastrophe that they have and are in the process of constructing, through non-reconstruction?

Maybe they should go back to school and learn more about the notion of common property, so well described recently by Professor Ugo Mattei. Or to read the study by the World Bank, once a bastion of neoliberal ideology.

Because, if Wells were here in Haiti today, his opinion on would be clear. In the second oldest republic of the hemisphere, “catastrophe” has been ahead of “education” for a long time.


Students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti collaborated on this series.

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA) and community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media.

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