For years, Venezuela’s Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Cientificas (IVIC), has managed to stay above political fights, maintaining a meritocratic system. The system is not too different from what is used in high quality scientific institutions everywhere. To get tenure as a researcher, you need to publish, show originality, high impact work and the have the work recognized as your own.
This system has been in place for over forty years and IVIC has maintained a relatively high level of quality in research in the basic sciences. Despite its small size, roughly 120 researchers, IVIC publishes a large fraction of the country’s scientific output. Additionally, IVIC established the tradition of academic research in Venezuelan universities and groups of researchers from IVIC started important scientific institutions such as the oil research institute INTEVEP and the Fundacion Instituto de Ingenieria.
I worked at IVIC for quite a number of years. If anything, I thought that requirements for tenure should be tougher. My personal opinion was that if you were to be allowed to research on anything you wanted in a country like Venezuela, you better be very good, recognized internationally and a true scientific leader. Most people at IVIC were like that, but once in a while the system was a little lenient or there were strong differences between groups because someone was not allowed to stay or receive tenure. But in general, the system worked quite well.
Besides the 120 researchers, IVIC had professional research assistants called PAI’s and technicians TAI’s. PAI’s are professional in engineering or basic sciences who help out in the research, appear in publications, but are not the leaders of the research process, are not responsible for writing the publications, have no students and thus have fewer responsibilities those researchers. Any PAI that wants to become a researcher can do so, but in my time, few wanted to, given the additional responsibilities involved.
For the last few months, there have been discussions of changing the regulations that dictate how IVIC is run. Despite an extensive internal discussion, a “parallel” set of regulations has been brought directly to the Government and based on the article that appeared in yesterday’s El Universal it is clear to me what the intent of the Government is.
Under the excuse of “lack of participation” and adapting IVIC to the new Constitution, the legal adviser of the Ministry of Science says that IVIC’s paradigm needs to be changed. That it is not necessary to have a Ph.D. to be a researcher and that IVIC has a large number of professionals with Master’s degree that are researchers (Yeah! Yeah!). She says that IVIC has a very rigid structure for promotions and the scheme needs to be changed. She calls IVIC a country club in which nobody can enter. Well, you can, you need a Ph.D., have to work very hard and do significant research.
What this is, is another example, of what is bad about this Government. This is populism at work; they want all of those PAI’s, none of which ever wanted to become researchers, to get all of the privileges without having all of the responsibilities. At the same time, they want to “take the power away” from the researchers. Some power, 14-16 hour days to attempt to remain competitive in their fields of expertise, $600 a month salaries, poor funding, lack of resources and even financing your trips to conferences with your own money.
The end result would be a blotted bureaucracy and a relaxation of academic requirements. The true researchers with potential will feel no pressure to produce, while the newly promoted researchers will know the “revolution” will defend them from tough evaluations. The best will be forced to emigrate to find environments where academic excellence is the priority. This simply means the slow death of IVIC as a world class scientific institute in a third world country. It was all a beautiful and wonderful dream while it lasted….