Dr. Ignacio Sánchez: ‘We need bridges between universities'
During a visit to AL DÍA on May 17, Chilean university president and scholar Dr. Ignacio Sánchez discussed international student exchange, the women’s movement in Chile, and more before receiving an honorary degree from Drexel University College of Medicine at their commencement ceremony the following day.
On May 17, Dr. Ignacio Sánchez, physician, scholar, and president of Pontificia Universidad Católica (PUC), one of the top-ranked universities in Latin America, visited our newsroom for an AL DÍA Talk with Publisher Hernán Guaracao.
Throughout the conversation, Dr. Sánchez highlighted the need for greater international collaboration among higher education institutions, citing the partnership that PUC has with Drexel University as an example of the power of universities working across borders to strengthen their resources and their student body.
“In all of this time for us, internationalization has been a key issue. And we have been working with different good universities in the states and around the world, and one of the more deep relationships that we have in the sense of student exchange, different programs in English, in research, in teaching, is with Drexel University,” Dr. Sánchez said, noting his connection with Dr. Daniel Schidlow, Dean of Drexel College of Medicine, who is also Chilean, as well as President John Fry of Drexel University.
On May 18, Dr. Sánchez received his honorary degree from Drexel College of Medicine at the school’s commencement ceremony at the Kimmel Center in Center City, Philadelphia. He said that he was honored, and stressed the importance of the recognition beyond his own personal achievements as an acknowledgment of the strengthened partnership between PUC and Drexel.
Sánchez said that in the past three years PUC, as part of a program called Leading the Way, has been sending a group of 15-20 low-income students to spend three or four weeks of the summer in Philadelphia in Drexel in order to improve their English and experience intercultural exchange. Drexel students have also participated in exchange programs which have allowed them to live in Santiago and study at PUC as undergraduate students.
Dr. Sánchez noted that the importance of encouraging and fostering relationships between educational institutions will only grow more important in the future.
In a country where the percentage of the population living below the poverty line has fallen from 40 percent in 1990 to less than 10 percent today, Dr. Sánchez said that many challenges remain to stabilize the economy for the many Chileans living in the middle class just above the poverty line.
"It's very fragile, the society, with a lot of demands and also with a lot of uncertainties of the future because we need to have much more values that are based on innovation, that are based on research and creativity, and are less based on natural resources," said Dr. Sánchez. "This is the change that I guess we are in the challenge to do and that’s why I think that the work of the university is so crucial, because the university means acknowledgment, research, and transference to society, and society [does] need all of this input."
Despite the fact that the visa application process for Chilean students looking to study in the U.S. for a year or less has, for the most part, remained unaffected by other changes in immigration policy brought about by the current U.S. presidential administration, the Trump administration’s rhetoric has had an effect on the way many Chilean students view travel to the U.S., according to Dr. Sánchez.
“The news that we get from the states in the sense of immigration and acceptance to foreigners can affect the idea of our students that the U.S. is not as close as before for them,” he said. “So we have to inform them that the doors are open as before, but it’s for sure something that you have to make more effort than before.”
Dr. Sánchez also spoke about the role of the university in working with and responding to the women’s movement in Chile. On May 16, tens of thousands of women, many of them university students, protested in marches throughout Chile to call for improved regulations and systemic change to confront sexual harassment, sexual violence, and sexism as it is manifested in universities and the country's other institutions. Dr. Sánchez said that due to the university’s central location in Santiago, a majority of the 60,000 protesters gathered in Santiago that day passed through their campus grounds.
According to Sánchez, the movement has been building for years and is seeking to address what has been a major issue in many areas of Chilean society for a long time.
“Chile does have a very sexist society,” said Dr. Sánchez. “And the sexism does reflect in different opportunities, different salaries, different treatment, violence against women, sexual harassment against women, and this is in a society in the States, happening everywhere, but in Chile, it happens in different areas. At the university level, industrial level, in the government, in almost every place. What happened with the universities is that the youth students in the university are...more decided to promote the changes, so for the past two or three months they have been presenting what are the issues.”
In the case of PUC, Dr. Sánchez said, the administration has addressed issues of sexual harassment and discrimination in part by putting together a manual for faculty and establishing strict guidelines on faculty behavior, as well as establishing a judicial process which would encourage students to come forward to present cases, facilitate investigation, and ensure that appropriate measures are taken in the case of a conviction.
“It’s a national theme and as always our university is one of the more important places...because our students have been presenting their ideas with passion and with a lot of right,” he concluded.