On September 11, 2020, the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Leon) summarily terminated thirteen professors and two administrators in the school’s faculty of dentistry, in apparent retaliation for their participation in a union election.
The dean of the faculty of dentistry, Flor de Maria Valle, reportedly delivered the fifteen dismissal letters personally, ensuring that the professors and administrators were escorted off campus on the spot. The letter did not provide a reason for the decision to dismiss the professors, instead stating simply: “As of today, your appointment as professor of the Dentistry Faculty is cancelled.” The professors and administrators do not appear to have received any advance notice of the decision to terminate them, nor any ability to challenge or appeal the decision. The terminations occurred one week after a decision by UNAN-Leon’s University Council giving the dean the unilateral authority to “sanction, suspend or cancel appointments of academic, administrative and service personnel, as well as to expel members of the student community,” whose actions “threaten the peace.”
While university authorities did not provide an official explanation for their termination, the professors and administrators alleged that the decision was related to their participation in a recent professors’ union election. According to the professors, the faculty of dentistry was the only school in which the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) — the national ruling party — did not win the union election, and it was the only faculty whose candidates were not identified by party affiliation. The election occurred on September 10; the terminations occurred the next day.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the summary termination of professors and other members of the higher education community — evidently without due process, the right to appeal, or related administrative safeguards — in apparent retaliation for their nonviolent exercise of the right to free expression and association. Freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom — including the right to comment on one’s own institution — are guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ICCPR, to which Nicaragua is a party. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions harm university autonomy, erode expression on campus, and harm democratic society generally.