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San Cristóbal de Huamanga University

A young university graduate, Luis Lumbreras, stepped off the twin-engine Constellation in 1960. The hour-twenty minute flight from Lima to Huamanga had brought him back to his birthplace. Son of an Ayacucho landowner and former legislator, Lumbreras was not returning to take up his inheritance as landed gentry. He was a foot soldier in an invasion of the Twentieth Century.

The Lima government had decided to reopen a closed seminary, promoting it to the status of national university. It was an audacious step to put a beachhead of higher learning in a provincial backwater. Huamanga was in the middle of the mancha india, the "Indian blot," in the Southern Andes. Indians still spoke Quechua, the language of the Inca, and lived in abject poverty from subsistence farming and grazing. The university would put the tools of civilization and education at the Indians' disposal. Education was the magic wand that would turn backward Indians into fully franchised, productive citizens. The region was to be the focus of study and the generator of its own transformation.

A native son from one of the best families, Lumbreras seemed the perfect standard-bearer in this new adventure of linking up the Peruvian hinterland with the modern world. Twenty-two years old, he had already caught the academic limelight in his undergraduate days at Lima's San Marcos university. As a promising archaeologist, he had a precocious knack to take the pre-Columbian potsherds of a dozen digs and fit them into a mosaic that spanned historical horizons. He had also shown leadership among the students, being the first wave which breathed the intoxicating vapors of socialism and Marxist dialectic thinking. The reform-minded university professors had handpicked him for the humanities department.


In the 1950s, the leading lights of this declining order decided to do something to pull Ayacucho out of its slump and insert it into the economic boom that seemed to be sweeping the country. A group led by the Aprista landowners proposed to have the university reopened even though the school had been nothing more than a seminary. In 1887, the national president, Andres Caceres, a fellow Ayacuchan, had shut it down because the semi-narians had been unruly. Four Ayacuchan legislators, senators Alberto Arca Parró, Luis Enrique Galván and Alberto Protzel and Deputy Alfredo Parra, lobbied hard in Lima for the reopening of the college.

The initiative to reopen the National University San Cristobal de Huamanga drew powerful godfathers in Lima. Three of Peru's most important historians and education ministers -- Jorge Basadre (1958), Luis Valcarcel (1947) and Emilio Romero (1958-9) -- had a direct role in the founding of the university. Theirs was more than just a symbolic sponsorship. All three were born in the provinces and felt the contradictions of a country divided among itself.

Born and raised in Tacna, Basadre had broken investigative ground with Peru, problema y posibilidad, published in 1931. His Historia de la Republica del Peru, whose original six volumes appeared in 1937, was a hallmark of individual scholarship. By 1968, the final edition contained 16 tomes.

Both Valcarcel and Romero were provincial intellectuals, from Cusco and Puno. Valcarcel's book, Tempestad en los Andes (1927), marked a new militancy in provincial elites and a social-ist yearning for joining forces with Andean peasants. Romero invoked the need for decentralization of power, resources and decision-making so that Peru's distant regions could grapple with their own problems.

Basadre provided the cabinet punch to shepherd the project through the conservative regime of President Manuel Prado. He appointed Valcarcel to chair the organizing committee.

The novelist, anthropologist and native of southern Ayacucho José Maria Arguedas was on the organizing commission. A mestizo raised by a Quechua-speaking nanny, Arguedas lifted the Andean world to new literary realism by entering into its mindset. His novels are unmatched for their capacity to capture what it meant to be an Indian in the Andes. Other members of this constellation were Raúl Porras Barrenechea, another historian who was serving as president of the Senate when the reopening law was passed.

A Modernizing Blitz

On October 8, 1959, the National University of San Cristobal of Huamanga officially reopened its doors after seventy years of silence. Within seven months, it was preparing the first students for the start of the academic year, hiring additional professors for the coming year, rebuilding the facilities out of the rubble of provincial decadence.

The new university head, Fernando Romero Pintado, was greeted warmly by the people, walking around the main square with a bouquet of flowers in his arms and being showered with flowers from the balconies.

"My term at Huamanga was the most marvelous experience that I had ever had in my life," remembers the first university rector, Fernando Romero Pintado twenty years later. "We jumped from the 18th century to the 2Oth century." At the time of our interview, he is a mentally vigorous 83 years old and working feverishly on his opus magnus on black culture in Peru before he ran out of breath.

The Lima sponsors could not have picked a more enterprising university rector. He had the drive of a dreadnought and the temper of a boatswain's mate. Romero Pintado had left the Navy with the rank of captain because he could not accept the narrow perspective of the military mind. He had just come back from a long period of international service, laboring in the Pan American Union and the United Nations organizations. While working in the United States during World War II, he was impressed by the role played by education in mobilizing the country. The offer to preside over an innovative university made him postpone what he saw as a more practical goal, setting up a national vocational training program which would fill the gap of skilled labor in Peru.

The newly opened university placed its claim in the heart of the city. Romero Pintado found that old the seminary's proper-ties were still in the university's name. One building, once used as a courtroom, had declined to a chicken coop and pigpen. The two main structures were on the Parque Surcre, the main square named after Bolivar's field marshal at the Battle of Ayacucho. They were in dilapidated conditions and required re-pair and remodeling. Romero's insistence on rescuing the old properties was a stroke of genius.

The conservation of these two buildings contributed to saving the whole plaza from being destroyed in the urge to inject modernity by poring cement. Even today an architectural disease afflicts Peru. Each provincial capital tries to prove its entrance into the 20th Century by building at least one concrete monstrosity on the main square. Huamanga's gracefully rustic arcade that encloses three sides of the plaza makes Huamanga today perhaps the most beautiful main square in Peru. The stone-work arches the balconies and the ocher-colored roof tiles have maintained the taste of the old town. Later initiatives, taken by the municipal council and the national government, guaranteed that the city's historical core would retain its architectural integrity and rustic charm. During the 1970s and even into the 1980s, government entities restored or refurbished other colonial buildings in the downtown area.

The university soon became the hub for a new social circuit, both a point of exchange and reference. A resident could go to the square to pick up a newspaper (or rent it) for the latest events in the country and the world. Immediately, he was swept up in a discussion about their significance with professors, stu-dents and other passers-by. The University of Huamanga absorbed the town into a borderless campus.

The university changed the townscape in other subtle ways. In 1957, there were three cars, along with some trucks and a few buses, in the town, though a highway from the coast had reached there in 1924. Two belonged to immigrant merchants and the third to a physician. By 1961, there were 10 autos. Two years later there were 30, half of them belonging to professors or the university. These first automobiles altered the social hierarchy in Huamanga. The gamonales, who rode through town on horseback, had expected barefoot peasants and town residents to step aside for them. Suddenly they had to rein in their nervous mounts, ceding right of way to upstart merchants and professors.

Not that there was much use for cars. The only paved streets were the main square and Jiron 28 de Julio. A ditch down the middle of each street allowed residents to empty their chamber pots. The professors jokingly called the public lighting system "electric darkness."

A New Brand of Professor

The new university attracted the cream of academics in Peru: "We went there fleeing from the failures of the other national universities," says anthropologist Fernando Silva Santisteban. The Peruvian university system had declined from its heyday in the early 20th Century when the university student movement joined the nascent trade union movement to fight for the eight-hour workday and the separation of church and state. There were only six universities in Peru. The Pontifical Catholic University in Lima was private and the rest were cliquish, uninspiring centers of learning. The provincial universities, like Trujillo, Cusco and Arequipa, were linked to the local elites.

But intellectuals were also searching for something else. Basadre said that the awareness of the Indian in Peru was the most significant contribution of Peruvian intelligentsia in this century. The professors invited to fill the first vacancies in the staff quickly perceived this intention, and it was transmitted to the students. This vision later matured under the mantel of the Alliance for Progress and other development efforts. They picked Huamanga as an experiment in functional education, breaking with the stuffy, cliquish customs of other universities. Although the Huamanga powers-that-be wanted a traditional university, a semi-theological institution for forming monks and lawyers, the godfathers and organizers had other plans in mind.

The list of Huamanga recruits included many of the social scientists, agronomists and other academics that would mark the explosion of investigative and applied learning in the 1970s and 1980s nationally. They were a young crew, averaging 25-32 years old. About 70 percent of them were Peruvians, and the rest drawn from the United States, France, England, Holland, Denmark and Belgium. Although Romero Pintado handpicked the first crop of professors to start the university, the rest of the Peruvian faculty had to compete for a post. During their first year of ap-pointment, they were in a trial period. At the end of that time, their peers and students judged their performance.

For the first time in Peru's history, a professor was expected to work full time in the university. The position was not a part-time perk for the leading lawyers and notables of the community. They were paid accordingly, about one thousand dollars a month, roughly double what could be expected in other schools. It was also recognition that there were few other job opportunities in the city for a college graduate. The professors contributed 10 percent of their income to a scholarship fund. They also assumed a closer relationship with the students, taking on the tasks of being tutors and counselors.

Producing Graduates for the Region

The university also proposed a radical break with academic tradition. From the start, it had been decided that the school would not teach law, the backbone of all the other universities in the country. For many academics, the law profession seemed a national plague because the profession was intricately meshed with the exploitation of the campesinos and the expropriation of their land through legal tongue twisters. Instead, the university concentrated on careers appropriate to the region. There were to be three departments: natural sciences, engineering and social sciences.

The natural science faculty taught biology and a nursing-obstetrics track. What the countryside needed was not physicians but health workers who could get out among the campesinos and provide simple preventive care.

The engineering faculty was to turn out chemical and mining engineers to exploit the region's natural resources. More importantly, the idea was to create a unique breed combining technical and practical skills, a rural engineer. The graduate was to have the training and knowledge to meet the challenges of development: enough engineering skills to know how to build an irrigation canal or a school that would not fall down at the first earth tremor, sufficient veterinary studies to administer medicine to sick livestock, and proficiency in agronomy to advise on crop rotation and fertilizer use.

The humanities department had the mandate to investigate the past and present culture of the Andean Indians through anthropology, history and archaeology. It also had to turn out social workers and the corps of schoolteachers that would be needed in the educational crusade.

To make the transition to this new demanding reality more feasible, the university established what was called Basic Cycle or the Series 100 courses. The aim was to level the rural, provincial and urban students, the outside student with the native of Ayacucho. Team teaching was frequently used in these courses, drawing on all the faculties for expertise. The first instruction unit was called "The World in Which We Live." It was meant to introduce the student to the 20th Century, from the consequences of the Industrial Revolution to the Space Race.

The curriculum was also set up so that students could suspend their studies after the first two or three years. Thus, they could get work, save money, get practical experience and, then, return to the university to get their final degree.

The university was already ahead of the pack. A decade before other universities, it introduced the course credit system and semester term. International support for the University came from Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary and Canada. The United States Peace Corps was also present, teaching English in the language department and assisting craftsmen in the working class neighborhoods.

In place of the sons of landowners, the university received the children of shoptenders, craftsmen and even poor campesinos who had been able to make the sacrifice to send their offspring to provincial capital schools where they could get their high school degrees. At the university, they were treated as equals, as peers by the professors and coastal students. The applicants were first tested for broad fields of learning (social studies and natural sciences) to determine the their capacities for syn-thesis, deduction and recognizing relationships. In contrast, other universities required a knowledge test in which the student's capacity to memorize 10-15 subjects.

The first students numbered 228 in 1959. By 1966, the enrollment pushed over the thousand mark. To absorb this new crop of students, the university had to take special efforts. In a survey of the students, the administration found that 60 percent suffered from malnutrition. Their monthly income averaged $10. The university set up a student dormitory where the poorest students could reside. The school started a cafeteria, with reduced prices.

"We even had to show students how to eat with silverware, through our example," Romero Pintado says. He ate frequently in the cafeteria with the students, getting his own food, not using his privileges. Indeed, many professors and students remember the cafeteria as the site of the most illustrative debates in the university. Romero started the custom of inviting professors and students to share his dinner table. Professors were expected to follow his example.

Anthropologist Fernando Silva Santisteban says, "I have never seen a cleaner, more orderly university. There was a real esprit de corps among the professors and the student body."

This obsession with hygiene and cleanliness did not come easily, especially since a large portion of the student body were peasants who were just grappling with the complexities of urban modernity. Once, Romero Pintado was showing a visiting delega-tion his pride and joy, the first lavatory facilities, complete with flush toilets and running water. Much to his chagrin, he and his honorable guests found a fresh turd: a student, obviously bewildered by the gleaming contraptions, had relieved his bowels in the middle of the lavatory floor.

A Democratic Institution

Romero Pintado served out the opening term as rector by the end of 1962. His naval manners and single-minded goals were also clashing with the new groups forming in the university he had created. In addition, a new university law, passed by the Lima government, also required the Huamanga university to meet new standards, not all of which were to his liking. Finally, he had personal reasons for leaving, having lived away from his family for nearly three years and still maintaining alive his goal of setting up a national vocational training program.

The picking of a new rector was a major event and an experiment. The participation of the students in university government, including the monitoring of professors and student services, had set in motion the organization of the student body. In 1961, a group of students founded the Frente Estudiantintil Revolucionario (FER-Revolutionary Student Front) which would later take on even more political weight.

When the professors, employees and students of Huamanga went to vote in the elections to pick delegates for the university council, it was a festive occasion. The men dressed up in their Sunday suits. The wives and other women put on their Sunday finery, hats and gloves. It was an occasion to show that the university was above all reproach, capable of providing leadership and example for the rest of the city and the region. Although there were deep divisions among the professor, both political and social, it did not stand in the way of their basic respect for the underlying principles of democracy and respect for the majority.

The student support was crucial for the victory of Efraín Morote, who "constituted a kind of bridge between provincial and cosmopolitan intellectuals, and through an exceptional capacity of work and organization, achieved the institutional consolida-tion of the university." (Degregori 1986: 27)

Efrain Morote came from a landowning family with properties in Ayacucho, Abancay and Cusco. He was a specialist in Andean folklore. As a youth, he had serenaded Huamanga's young ladies, a guitar under his arm. When he came back as professor and vice rector, he was married, turning strict and severe. He was a pastor of an evangelical group and also brought the Summer Linguistics Institute to the university. Romero Pintado had picked him to be his lieutenant and acquired a tireless worker. In the evenings, as Romero Pintado, professors and students took their promenade around the parque, the lights in Morote's office were still burning. He was a stern taskmaster and demanding professor.

Morote Best continued with the consolidation of the University. By 1968, the end of his term, it had become a unique institution in the Peruvian hinterland.

The University's first two rectors also instilled a special climate and ethic around the university: party politics was dirty and corrupting and had no place in the university. The school had to stand above all partisan interests, untainted, idealistic, with a vocation for service to the community by providing fresh technological preparation, organizing the disperse groups and inspiring a new morale.

"This is a rare university, distinct from the rest of the universities of the country," says Enrique Gonzalez Carré, archaeologist and university academic vice president. "The only way to advance the university is to commit everyone to a single mystique, an ideal above individuals or discrepancies. This idea has been diminished with the passing of time, but it has not dis-appeared."

"During that first decade, everything was a novelty," says Virglio Galdo, one of the first students.

Perhaps, this effort to provide a new kind of education to the interior of the country was tinged with sentimentalism and guilt, but it marked a brief opening for Ayacucho, which would change the face of the city, the region and, fatefully, the coun-try. The reopening of the University of Huamanga was a first wave of superior education. Superior education went from seven universities to 47 universities in 1989. Practically any provincial city worth its salt demanded a university. Enrollment leaped from 30,000 students to 450,000 during the same period.


Despite of what was to follow, this period lingered in the minds of all Huamanga residents as the Golden Era, a paradise lost in the Andes and time. Even today if you make a visit ot Ayacucho, you hear the litany of the university sainthood: Jorge Basadre, Jose Maria Arguedas, Fernando Romero Pintado, Efrain Morote Best, plus all the anointed professors and students who passed through its halls. There are names explicitly omitted from this list. Whatever sins any of those refounding fathers may have committed later in their lives, those who remained in Huamanga would always let others judge the sinners. Those who shared in bringing about the first years of glory will always carry the key to the city, even if they have since commission crimes and brought even larger disasters down on the town.

Those who were formed by that initial experience and have remained despite all the reasons for exile are not going to give up on their community as a patria chica (little fatherland). Whoever does not comprehend and accept what the university has meant to Huamanga is condemned to misunderstand this provincial society. Those who do not come to terms with this university, with its shortcomings and needs, will never be fully received by the community.