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A leader in research

Agricultural engineer Joaquim José de Camargo Engler was dean of ESALQ and FAPESP

Engler in 2004: vocation for public administration

Eduardo Cesar / Revista Pesquisa FAPESP

On Saturday mornings, Joaquim José de Camargo Engler did the same thing he did on weekdays, a habit he had picked up over many decades: he spent some time reading the Diário Oficial do Estado (State government official gazette). “Do you know why? The worst, most controversial things are published on Saturdays when nobody pays attention to the gazzette. It is an age-old government strategy,” the agricultural engineer would say. Engler was FAPESP director from 1993 to 2017. His habit was developed over a career in public administration, which included time as head of the Luiz de Queiroz College of Agriculture of the University of São Paulo (ESALQ-USP), and administrative posts at different levels at USP. Engler passed away in São Paulo, aged 81, on July 23.

Born in Campinas, Engler graduated from ESALQ in Piracicaba, São Paulo, in 1964. “In those days, named professors still held chairs (professorships). Joaquim was the so-called rural economy chair, and moved on to his PhD in applied economy, obtaining his doctorate in 1968 at ESALQ itself,” says Evaristo Marzabal Neves, a retired professor and ex-dean at the institution. In the same year, it was as a FAPESP scholarship holder that he went to Ohio State University in the US, where he did his master’s (1970) and a new PhD (1971) in the same area.

In 1972, back in Piracicaba as teaching staff, he collaborated as a technical advisor to the Brazilian Ministry of Education, and began as a visiting professor in the field of economic theory at the Center for Agricultural Economics Studies of the Gulbenkian Institute of Science in Portugal, a post he held until 1976. In that same year Engler was one of the creators and founders of the Luiz de Queiroz Foundation for Agrarian Studies (FEALQ). This agency was created to raise funds nationally and internationally to support and manage research and to train human resources faster and more efficiently.

“Professor Engler always said that ESALQ shouldn’t just use the money available from the university, but should also fund-raise from other sources so as not to be limited to an often-insufficient budget,” says Ricardo Ferraz de Oliveira, coordinator of the Laboratory for the Study of Plants under Stress (LEPSE-ESALQ). “He and my father, Antonio Sanchez de Oliveira [1931–2008], from the teaching faculty of the Rural Engineering Department, made a great duo for years as they worked towards improving campus infrastructure.” Ricardo recalls that it was Engler who instituted the Luiz de Queiroz campus during his time as dean of ESALQ between 1983 and 1986, now as a standing professor, and became its first prefect.

Ricardo and Neves recognize Engler’s vocation as a public administrator, but also draw attention to his commitment to the education of young people. “He encouraged the academic career, striving to get students interested in doing research, and was very good at prospecting grants and funds at development agencies to guide those wishing to study overseas,” says Neves. “He coordinated agreements with overseas universities, such as Ohio and Michigan in the US, and with the Ford Foundation, for development of agricultural studies, to bring visiting professors in and send students out to the great centers of other countries.”

Engler started work in the USP Office of the Dean in the second half of the 1980s. He was technical planning advisor, chief of staff to the dean, general administration coordinator and, for 31 years, chair of the Budget and Assets Commission. “I knew Professor Engler for over 50 years, as a colleague on the USP Council, and as one of my key collaborators when I was dean of the university from 1986 to 1990. He was discreet, efficient, and loyal,” José Goldemberg told Agência FAPESP. Goldemberg chaired the FAPESP Board of Trustees between 2015 and 2018, reencountering him in the role of administrative director of the foundation.

Engler was head of the Agrarian Sciences area of the FAPESP Scientific Department from 1986, and a member of the Board of Trustees two years later. In 1993 he took over as administrative director. “Over his 24 years in post, to which he added six more years as an advisor to the Board of Trustees Chair, his time at FAPESP was underpinned by his integrity, caring about the public interest and the ability to live in harmony with work colleagues,” says current administrative director Fernando Menezes. “Succeeding him in this role has enabled me to experience even more closely the generosity and friendship with which he always supported and counseled me.”

Celso Lafer, chair of the foundation’s Board of Trustees between 2007 and 2015, recalls that Engler was very knowledgeable on the internal logistics of FAPESP — a complex institution — and the resources that make its actions possible. “During my term chairing the foundation, when the revenue level had changed through the Constitution, his advice was fundamental,” he says. Carlos Américo Pacheco, CEO of the FAPESP Executive Board, speaks of his dedication to the foundation: “He was a very competent, discreet person. I, particularly, learned a lot from him.”

For Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, chair between 1996 and 2002 and scientific director of the foundation from 2005 to April 2020, Engler had an exemplary career dedicated to research. “Prudent, wise, and discreet, his experience and knowledge of the foundation’s history helped our colleagues and me greatly,” he recalls.

Marco Antonio Zago, current chair of FAPESP’s Board of Trustees and dean of USP between 2014 and 2017, highlights Engler’s importance to institutions. “The character of Professor Engler will always be linked to the histories of FAPESP and USP. The administrative and financial frameworks of the two institutions shall, for a long time, bear the trademarks of his time there, marked by the vision that academic and research interests should overshadow routine bureaucracy,” he says.

Rewards and distinctions conferred upon the former dean include the International Alumni Award (1994), from Ohio State University; the Fernando Costa Medal (1991), from the São Paulo State Association of Agricultural Engineers; the Paulista Scientific & Technological Medal of Merit (2001); the IAC Award – Research Personality (2014), among others.

Engler leaves wife Cleide, children Cristina and Fábio, and three grandchildren.