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hystorical background of University of Quind?o

Historical Background of the University of Quindío

(Taken from “Historia de la Universidad del Quindío y OtrosEscritosAcadémicos”- “Historical Background of the University of Quindío and other Academic Written Works” by Otto Morales Benítez)


The miracle word: University

The word “university” arose slowly within the emotions of the people from Quindío, much like the cry “land ho, land ho!” amidst Christopher Columbus’ crewmates. It represented the thin sliver of hope that was yet to come. Accessions to it, which turned into sheer joy as the years passed by, slowly gained in strength. This miracle was spoken about almost cautiously. In the beginning, this aspiration was revealed to me amidst swift sleepwalking conversations, back when I had to deal with sudden work travels brought upon by my political managerial position in the Old Great Caldas. It was later on that we were waging war with me as the General Secretary of the Party- right beside the very “Chief of Liberacionismo[1]”, Alberto Lleras- against Rojas’ military dictatorship. Those were times of intense political devotion. Each one of my travels was to be carried out with the utmost precaution, so as not to stir up the regime’s hit-men, as they were so passionately wont to do. This species existed even back then, by the way. It has been one of the regime’s wretched inheritances.

When I started to frequent this neck of the woods, with an aim to explain what a referendum was and which was the proper way to vote so that we could return to democracy and to a constitution, we all used to talk about this ambition at length. The effect of this, however, remained unseen. I later spent several weeks working as a member of the Violence Research Committee, looking into how it all started in 1946 and how it spread its cruelty throughout the amiable hills of Quindío.

We often met with people from all backgrounds, from all social and economic contexts. I found the local women to be beautiful, vibrant and, as always, protestingof the collective pain that had spread out because of the existing administration. I now remember that there was a universal wound in each person’s soul, no exceptions. I felt dejected,for this was the pain of my friends, of my acquaintances, of my political peers, of the people who had shared both dreams and belligerence with me. Around those days, we went over the topic of education in Quindío. The word “University” went by like a faint light of hope. Us politicians, back then, did not hand out grants nor abusively take fiscal money to splurge it away on roof thatches, cements bulks, scholarships or other indignities which tormented the souls of Colombian people. What motivated our fights was a doctrinarian dream of vocation towards an ideology. What drove each word we uttered during the electoral struggle was a demand for the right attitude, behavior, vocation; a demand for a moral calling. The conquering of the world through unethical practices was not accepted.

I shall now remember moments from the time the university was founded. I apologize in advance if I forget names or details.  

The National Front

We became part of the government once the National Front was firmly established in it. I did so first as the Minister of Work. I was then relocated to the Agricultural Ministry so I could defend the ReformaAgraria (Agrarian Reform) and its social content.

While I was carrying out such demanding task, I was visited bythose who were my contertulios[2] whenever I found myself in Armenia: Mercedes Uribe de Velásquez, PastoritaBotero de Botero, Raquel Mejía and DaríoLeivaTroncoso. Mi office was like their natural habitat. Conversation came easy because it occured amongst people committed to similar goals. They said to me, in summary: You are and always have been a political leader. You now have a lot of influence inside this government. We are really keen on the university idea. But we need your cooperation. We believe now is the right time.

“Why do you think so?” I asked.

I received an immediate response: “President Alberto Lleras has taken an interest in decentralizing university education”.

Lleras’ Thesis

It was true that President Alberto Lleras had expressed that a cultural decentralization was required. University education was at this point concentrated in Bogotá, Medellín and Popayán, and there were some schools in Cartagena and Pasto. The country was aching for centers in which provincial learners could be given an opportunity. These new educational centers should focus their strengths on two primordial fronts: Future departmental universities must discover the reality of their regions and contribute to their authentic development. They must also unearth their true cultural identity, so that the characteristics of their communal life may be highlighted. But all of this had to have a national integration purpose. The second premise: The classical majors (law, medicine, and engineering) were not to be repeated. It was evident that the country needed to expand academically. It was necessary for a new orientation to exist, one where national intelligence could migrate to. The government wanted to contribute to Colombian growth with previously unknown professorships, which had to have a tendency towards what was prevalent in the world: A tendency towards researching technique as a concept, in its unknown manifestations.  

Some of these parameters have been met. The National Front, which is constantly blamed for so many evils by its own friends, particularly those who were nostalgic about the dictatorship or the new epigones of the authoritarian empire, brought about the Educational Revolution. Here with us is Dr. Jaime Posada, President of the Academy of the Language in Colombia and former Minister of Education. It is he to whom we, as province men, give thanks. The regional growth rate of universities is staggering. They are truly carrying out an exceptional task by raising awareness towards new research fronts. 

However, I do believe it is crucial, from the perspective of the curriculum at the University of Quindío, to repeat several brief warnings: Too many educational centers have organized faculties and schools which were previously sufficiently covered, as pointed out by President Alberto Lleras. Also, great faults can be seen in the quality of their programs and their professorate. This is starting to become a threat for the country. Too many professionals who behave unethically towards their careers, their knowledge and their skills are being currently churned out en masse.Regarding law practice, which is my career, all this is self-evident. It is like some sort of proletarianization of both intelligence and moral conduct. Damage may very well become widespread if there are no dams or dikes to protect us from what our absurd current constitution dictates.  I have heard sound warnings from Universidad Central de Bogotá Chancellor, Dr. Jorge Enrique Molina, about this matter. This is something I propose giving some thought to, because there is an imminent flood threatening to undermine the intellectual dignity of our nation and to worsen its ethical maladies. It is a complex issue, given that it destroys many economic hopes. The mission to educate should bear a beautiful spiritual mark.

The Proposal is presented to the President

The Ministry of Agriculture had declared that the country was lacking in qualified personnel who could apply the parameters of the Agrarian Reform through proper scientific and technical mechanisms. This is why we had consolidated the Faculty of Rural Sociology at Universidad Nacional, with contributions from eminent professor Orlando FalsBorda. There we were, participating, and ever vigilant. The country needed to be explored regarding its rural social aspect. Further, we also needed topographers, soils specialists, crop diversification technicians who could work hand in hand with farmers, marketing experts who knew their way around rural cooperativism and the ways in which agrarian grants would be best distributed, and professionals who wanted to work with the ground and the resources it yields. We then took our friends’ message to the presidential office. The president asked me two questions:

-          First, are there any suitable infrastructure conditions for the university to operate? The government does not have the means to build it, and it would take a long time merely for the project to start. We cannot give Colombians false hope.

-          Second, have you done research into finding where the money to build it can be taken from?

Because I had already spoken about this with the ComisiónQuindiana, my answers were precise: We know of available business premises in Armenia which can be adapted for educational means. And regarding the funding, we can borrow some from the unused budget of other government programs.

The president answered:

“Then let us help Quindío, in recognition of its immense contribution to Colombian development through the coffee trade. Let us give it hope, so that it may come out of its many sufferings imposed by violence.”

He then spoke to the Minister of Finance as part of a commission called Public Expense, if I remember correctly. The aim was to study my left-over budget borrowing proposal and to take any pertinent emergency measures. He also phoned the Universidad Nacional chancellor and asked him to reach me at my office, to send a commission to Armenia, and to take measures to begin the university project. With the solemnity that is so common in any governmental action, President Lleras said to him: “I want no improvising regarding this important matter, Mr. Chancellor. I want the grounds of the project to be crystal clear and all activities regarding it to be aimed at the future.”

We spoke at length with Dr. Arturo RamírezMontúfar. I cannot exactly recall if the ComisiónQuindiana did so too. He said to me: “I will go with the commission personally, because this one will be the first government-funded regional university, ever.”

The reports were favorable. The project moved steadily forward from an operational and economic stance. Then came the discussion about the majors, location, and other pressing matters. A greatly respected author from Caldas, AlirioGallego, was appointed as the university’s first chancellor. His secretary was Marieta Jaramillo, herself the daughter of another intellectual, Euclides Jaramillo. They worked on their own for many years. They were hard-working, and unrelenting when it came time to petition. They represented conviction.

The Local Environment

Some citizens claimed that the university was not necessary. They argued that the money the Ministry of Agriculture budget would be better spent on some plantain campaign. They argued that government money was being wasted on services that the community did not need. It was never clear to us whether this dim resistance against the collective future of Quindío came about as a reaction against the ComisiónQuindiana, or if it came about as a reaction against my unyielding support. Whatever the case, I never knew for sure, because I did not set out to understand the positions of those who claimed to know what was better for the fate of Quindío.

It was under these circumstances that a friend of mine, RaúlMejíaCalderón, arrived in Bogotá. His frankness, his generosity and his political and human loyalty made his visits a source of sheer joy. He told me all about the rumors that were being quietly spread through small talk across the department. He then suggested that I explain the meaning and the scope of what the university would represent for Quindío. Heeding his advice, I immediately set out to do so. In the course of three days, visits to all the municipalities were scheduled and organized.MejíaCalderón coordinated all of them. We spoke at each municipality’s main square, and held open meetings in the Council chambers, town halls, and presbyteries afterwards. The attendees soon understood that new perspectives were being opened for both the Quindío department and for its people. They accepted the fact that what was being proposed to them was a spiritual adventure that would ultimately increase the opportunities of the region. This new attitude turned out to be very contagious. I remember these days as being some of the more encouraging in my life as a public servant. I relished the collective joy of all these humble people, many of whom could barely read, who celebrated these noble spiritual tidings. They proudly proclaimed their new-found interest in the vindication of the mind, which is now a characteristic of these magnificent people and of Colombian people in general.

Today we find ourselves in their classrooms, celebrating thirty-five years of their academic endeavor. When they appointed their current chancellor, they gave him very few privileges and an immense, excruciating, overwhelming debt. Professor Henry Valencia Naranjo then came along and increased his privileges and liberated the institution of its fiscal anguishes, which posed a considerable threat. He has been driving the institution towards more humanistic areas, thus awakening our race’s creative awareness. And it had to happen this way, for he is a grower of poetry and literature. He resonates with spiritual ponderings, for he is a highly sensitive and intelligent being.

The university started out with the faculties of Topography and Education in 1961. Afterwards, some attempts were made:

-          Roads and causeways Engineering

-          Electronic Engineering

-          Mechanical Engineering

Students usually attended for two years and then migrated to other universities, either in Pereira or in Cauca.

Currently, there are 7 constituted faculties:

-          Faculty of Health Sciences

-          Faculty of Engineering

-          Faculty of Distance/Off-Campus Courses

-          Faculty of Accounting and Administration

-          Faculty of Basic Sciences

-          Faculty of Human Sciences

-          Faculty of Advanced Research Learning (Graduate Courses)

The instructions of President Alberto Lleras have been followed.

In 1992-1993, under Chancellor Valencia Naranjo’s direction, the Instituto de BellasArtes (Institute of Fine Arts) was as a non-formal education institution. It is composed of 6 basic areas:

-          Music

-          Theater

-          Painting

-          Voice Training for Interpreters

-          Dancing

-          Ceramics

The following laboratories have been founded as of 1992:

-          Manuel Elkin PatarroyoCenter for Biomedical Research

-          Center for Opto-Electronic Research (the only one of its kind in Colombia). This laboratory is a consultant for other national institutions and for Mexico.

-          Waters Laboratory: It studies the treatment coffee growing wastewater.

-          A laboratory which is currently working on producing a fungus that controls the coffee berry borer through a partnership program with the ComitéDepartamental de Cafeteros del Quindío (Coffee Growers of Quindío Departmental Committee)


During 1994, the university won five awards for research.


-          Tropical Medicine National Award

-          Blue Planet National Ecology Award- Banco de Occidente

-          Concrete National Prize- Outstanding Concrete, awarded to best thesis projects

-          Two national Biological Sciences prices, in categories Best Research in Botany and Best Thesis Project

The “U” today