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The Brazil that the Arcades have sighted

In the series of articles on the 70 years of the University of São Paulo

The Law School of São Francisco square, the oldest of the units that, seven decades ago, originated the University of São Paulo (USP), preserves the signs of vigor that transformed it into a paradigm of higher education back in the days when Brazil was an empire in the tropics, and the city of São Paulo was no more than a bucolic and provincial burg. In the latest ranking of the national test that evaluates courses the “Provão”, the school finished first, followed by law schools from the states of Minas Gerais, from Paraná, from Espírito Santo, from Bahia, from Rio de Janeiro, from Brasilia, and from the São Paulo city of Franca. It can said that all these schools attained excellence with their sights on the example of the institution from São Paulo. It is also certain that they have relieved from its historical responsibilities “the old and ever new” Academy, as its bachelors like to term it.

Opened in 1828 in the installations of an old Franciscan convent in the center of São Paulo, for a long time the school represented one of the scarce option for the national oligarchy to make its sons famous. Students from all parts disembarked in São Paulo. Of the 33 registered in the first intake, only nine lived in the capital; eight came from the rich agricultural interior of the province, ten from Rio, four from Minas Gerais, and two from Bahia. These pioneer bands of students were to be the first to nurture the cosmopolitan dream of the future metropolis. The city had been chosen to welcome the law course, with the argument that it offered no entertainment to distract the students and the cost of living was low. This did not last for long. Between the decades of 1830 and 1870 – before the wealth from coffee and the advent of the railroads were to transform the city – São Paulo was student territory, and the presence of them stimulated the construction of the first hotels, theaters, and entertainment houses.

The school was created, a little more than five years after the proclamation of Independence, with the mission of forging an elite of public men capable of managing the nation – the University of Coimbra came to display hostility to those who aspired to a bachelor’s degree coming from the stray colony. If the target was to prepare the “able men” who were to command the country, if the intention was to bestow the governing elite with an intellectual basis, it can be said that the objective yielded abundant and long-lasting fruits. Until at least the Second World War, the Academy was the main center for forming personnel for politics, Justice, and journalism in the country.

In March 1868, the steamship Santa Maria docked in the port of Santos bringing two students from Bahia who had hardly emerged from adolescence and who were to mark the trajectory of the faculty and the history of Brazil One of them was Ruy Barbosa, the jurist who was to mold the republican constitution, the polyglot who was to represent Brazil at the Hague Conference. The other was the poet Castro Alves – who was to die of tuberculosis three years later, but made up the trio of romantic poets with his colleagues Fagundes Varella and Álvares de Azevedo. The young Juca Paranhos from the state of Rio de Janeiro also studied there.

The son of a minister of the Empire, Juca the pupil, the legendary Baron of Rio Branco, was to follow a political and diplomatic career and to play a role in the delimitation of the Brazilian frontiers in the south, the far north, and the far west of the country. At the end of the 19thn century, it was estimated that seven in every ten Brazilian deputies had passed through the Arcades – another nickname for the faculty, a reference to the props for the daub and wattle construction of the Franciscan convent, reconstituted in the new building, erected in the 1930’s.

The Old Republic (1889-1930) was, first and foremost, a Republic of bachelors from São Francisco square. Eight presidents from this phase graduated from the Arcades: Prudente de Moraes, Campos Salles, Afonso Pena, Rodrigues Alves, Delfim Moreira, Venceslau Brás, Arthur Bernardes and Washington Luís. 45 governors of the Province and of the State of São Paulo also came out of the institution. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Academy came to divide with other institutions, like the College of Medicine and the Polytechnic School, its primacy in forming the elite of São Paulo.

Likewise, the bachelors kept yielding room in public administration to technology (the country’s demands were becoming more complex) and to the military (their antagonists, who used to call politicians “frock coats”). Oddly enough, the schhol was only to produce anther head of the nation – even so, in a fleeting experience – in the 1960’s: it was in the student militancy of the Arcades that Jânio Quadros rehearsed his rhetoric. The massification of higher education did not obfuscate the importance of the school, which continued to attract the elite of the candidates at the entrance exam and is an extremely rare example of a massive approval in the examinations of the São Paulo section of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB in the Portuguese acronym).

The country now has over 700 law schools and 400,000 lawyers. The effervescence of São Francisco square left marks even where one would least imagine. The Bauru sandwich (a typical Brazilian sandwich made with hot ham, cheese and tomatoes) earned this name because it was the one preferred by law student Casemiro Pinto Neto at the Ponto Chic restaurant, in the center of São Paulo. Casemiro, known as Bauru – the São Paulo city where he was born -, lent the nickname to the sandwich. The refrain “é pique, é pique, é hora, é hora, é hora, rá-tim-bum” [Snip snip, time’s up time’s up, Ra tim bum, ra tim bum], incorporated in Brazil into Happy Birthday to You, is a collage of the refrains of the carousing students of the Arcades in the 1930’s.

“É pique, é pique was a greeting for student Ubirajara Martins, known as “snip-snip” because he was always with his scissors trimming his beard and pointed moustache. “É hora, é hora” was a war cry in the grogshop. In the bars, the students were obliged to wait half an hour for the drinks to cool down on bars of ice. When the time was up, they would shout: “It’s half an hour, time’s up, time’s up. “Rá-tim-bum” , incredible though it seems, refers to an Indian rajah called Timbum, or something like it, who visited the school – and captivated the students with the sonority of his name.

The cluster of refrains would echo at the tables of the Ponto Chic, with a format a little different from the one know today: “Pic-pic, pic-pic; meia hora, é hora, é hora, é hora; rá, já, tim, bum”. How did this get to end up in Happy birthday to you? The students used to be invited to animate and to honor birthday parties. And they would bring out their songs”, says the current school director, Eduardo Marchi, 44 years old, who recalled this oddity in his speech on taking office, two years ago. In 1934, the faculty ceased to be a federal school and was incorporated into the University of São Paulo – but has remained zealous of its traditions. The attempts to transfer the main premises to the University City were repelled – the pupils went so far as to uproot the foundation stone of what was to be the new building.

The defense of the ideal of freedom is a mark of the institution – and also the origin of a historical paradox. The students from São Francisco square and their combative August 11 Academic Center engaged themselves in a good part of the struggles for democracy, from abolitionism to the 1932 Constitutionalist Revolution, from the freedom of the press to the human rights movement, from the opposition to the New State to the campaign for direct elections and for the Constitutional Assembly with popular participation, in the 1980s. he German Julio Frank and the Italian Líbero Badaró, liberal activists and teachers at the preparatory school for the school in the First Reign, became icons for the first generations of pupils. “But their elitist origin transformed a good part of the inflamed students into ardent defenders of order, when they achieved a career in politics and in the magistracy”, says Ana Luiza Martins, the author of the book Arcadas – História da Faculdade de Direito do largo de São Francisco [Arcades – History of the Faculty of Law of São Francisco Square], in partnership with Heloisa Barbuy, also a historian.

In recent history, bachelors from São Francisco square played an important role in the redemocratization of the country – Ulysses Guimarães, the craftsman of the 1988 Constitution, and former senator and governor André Franco Montoro are former students of the institution. he teaching staff also had names like Goffredo da Silva Telles, who, in 1977, dared to demand the return of the state of law in the commemoration of the 150 years of law courses in the country. But some professors lent their academic brilliance to liberticidal causes, which was the case of the former directors of the faculty Luiz Antonio da Gama e Silva, the Minister of Justice of Marshall Costa e Silva and the draftsman of Institutional Act 5, and Alfredo Buzaid, who succeeded Gama e Silva in the government of General Emílio Médici, the most oppressive of the military period.

Regardless of their doctrinaire or ideological divergences, the professors have always cultivated civilized precepts of respect and tolerance. “It has been said for a long time that the congregation of the school is the place where one learns to diverge politely”, says the retired professor and former director of the faculty Dalmo de Abreu Dallari, a human rights activist since the 1970’s. There has always been a marked presence of pupils and teachers from the faculty in the legal scenario – Clóvis Bevilacqua, João Mendes Júnior, Teixeira de Freitas and Vicente Rao are examples. The Brazilian Civil Code, created in 1916 under the presidency of a pupil from the Arcades, Venceslau Brás, was reformed under the coordination of a jurist forged at the institution, Miguel Reale. In the 1970’s, with the creation of the postgraduate courses, the faculty took on the mission of producing research. It is not an easy task – and in this difficulty the institution finds itself in the company of the other courses in the country.

“A good part of research in law in Brazil and in the faculty still pores over an analysis of doctrines and questions of jurisprudence, without any field research or philosophical or sociological basis”, says Professor Antonio Luis Chaves Camargo, the president of the school’s Research Commission. Eduardo Bittar, an associate professor of the Philosophy and General Theory of Law Department – and a scholar in the question of legal research -, adds: “Empirical researches, case studies, documentary research, and sociological analyses are still underpinnings that are neglected by the national legal culture”. This does not fail to be odd, since the law comprises a strong intellectual activity, as can be perceived from the vigorous market for law books (many of them written by teaching staff from São Francisco square).

What also hampers research is that few of the teaching staff of the Faculty of Law dedicate themselves to the job full time. Only 10% of the 130 professors are working full time. The Brazilian tradition is one of teaching staff with their feet rooted in the labor market – as judges, prosecutors, owners of law firms -, capable of showing students the reality of the profession. This double militancy has been a reality since the faculty was founded. In the 1860’s, only two thirds of the 17 professors were always to be found in São Paulo – as magistrates or politicians, several of them were performing functions of minister of the Empire or of governor of a province. In countries like the United States and Germany, one of the most important foundations for legal research is the full-time dedication of the teaching staff.

The Arcades are committed to change this panorama progressively. The number of agreements with foreign institutions is growing, such as with the Università degli Studi di Roma “La Sapienza” and Universtà Statale di Milano, in Italy; the Université de Lyon II, in France; the University of Lagos, in Nigeria; the University of Texas, Austin, in the USA, amongst others. Until ten years ago, there were practically no graduate students carrying out scientific initiation projects. Today, 2% of the pupils now have scholarships.

From 2005 onwards, undergraduate students will be obliged to produce a thesis to get a bachelor’s degree. The idea of the so-called Laureate Thesis, inspired on higher education in Italy, seeks, among other purposes, to fight a harmful attempt that the market is trying to impose on the school. The students today are invited to complete attachments in law firms increasingly earlier, some even in the second year of the course – jeopardizing their time for studying. The obligation to do a thesis is going to strengthen the pupils – link with the institution, making their education less practical and more reflective. A maxim that all the directors of the Arcades have repeated with pride continues to be valid: the objective of USP’s Law School is to form jurists, not bachelors.