A Free-Market University

Universidad Francisco Marroquín Is Shaping Social Change in Guatemala

Dr. Peterson, adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and former Lundy Professor at Campbell University, is this month’s guest editor. He received an honorary degree from UFM in 1991.

These days neither the Ivy League nor the Behemoth State Universities—so politically correct, so given to affirmative recruitment of faculty and students, so “Hey-hey ho-ho/Western-Civ’s got-to-go”—display much virtue, including the virtue of individual responsibility, free markets, and limited government. Indeed, many a university has become a wasteland, morally and otherwise.

An exception to the rule lies about a thousand miles south of the Rio Grande. It’s Universidad Francisco Marroquín, founded in 1972 in rented space in the capital city of Guatemala. Clues to its philosophy are seen in the name of one of its newest buildings, the Ludwig von Mises Library, so designated in foot-high polished brass lettering over its entrance, and in the fact that members of the UFM faculty have been published on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal as much as those of any American university.

Another clue is seen in its honorary degree awards to individuals of the persuasion of Leonard Read, Henry Hazlitt, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Benjamin Rogge, Peter Bauer, W. H. Hutt, Alberto Benegas Lynch, George Roche, Agustin Navarro, Edwin Feulner, Antony Fisher, John Chainberlain, Percy Greaves, Bettina Bien Greaves, Viktor Frankl, M. Stanton Evans, Hans Sennholz, Israel Kirzner, Leonard Liggio, Henry Manne, Thomas Szasz, and J. William Middendoff.

UFM enrollment has grown to 4,500 with schools in medicine, dentistry, law, theology, architecture, education, economics, accounting, computer science, and business administration the latter with a branch in El Salvador. Exchange programs are maintained with American universities such as Texas A and M.

UFM tuition is maintained at around 20 percent higher than the two other private Guatemalan universities, with applications nonetheless exceeding admissions by a significant factor. (Some local want ads for doctors, lawyers, CPAs, etc., stipulate that only UFM grads will be considered.) But no qualified UFM applicant is turned away if tuition payments cannot be met, as student loans are available.

UFM’s high tuition is all the more amazing in view of the fact that Guatemala’s national university, whose main campus is just a few miles away, charges its students practically nothing. Understandably so since the national university is allotted four percent of the central government’s budget, in accordance with Guatemala’s constitution.

UFM funding is assisted by Foundation Francisco Marroquín in Stuart, Florida. The foundation states that it is “devoted to encourage education in the economics of the market system and the politics of freedom in Latin America.” Besides UFM, the foundation solicits funds for such other Latin American free-market centers as the Centro de Estudios Sobre la Libertad of Argentina, the Instituto Liberal Conselho Nacional of Brazil, the Centro de Estudios Públicos of Chile, the Instituto Cultural Ludwig von Mises of Mexico, and the Instituto Libertad y Democracia of Peru.

UFM academic standards are high, with the university tightening those standards over the years. For example, it eliminated the traditional Latin American university practice of a “second chance” on final exams. It also made more difficult the dropping of courses without affecting the requisite grade point average. And it raised the score that degree students must attain on an English-language proficiency test.

More striking still is the UFM standard on academic freedom. Its faculty handbook recognizes the right of professors to teach “that which is contrary to [UFM's] philosophy or its policies, as long as it is done elsewhere and under someone else’s auspices.” (My emphasis.) Thus Francisco Marroquín University openly upholds and enforces the right to decide the faculty and content for all of its courses in view of what it holds to be “true, false, useful or irrelevant.”

Perhaps the most striking academic standard of all, though, is the UFM requirement that every student, whether of medicine, dentistry, law, education, theology, etc., take and pass courses on the economics and philosophies of Mises and Hayek, reading Spanish editions of such works as Human Action and The Road to Serfdom.

With the university now in its 22nd year of operation, tens of thousands of UFM graduates are having an impact on political and economic thinking in Guatemala and Latin America. Consider that UFM co-founder and first rector Dr. Manuel Ayau, who is also a businessman and former president of the international free-market Mont Pelerin Society, sought the vice presidency of Guatemala in 1990. Given that Ayau’s free-market positions are well known, that he was chosen for the ticket is revealing; that he made the 1991 run-off election, coming up with a respectable showing at the polls, is even more revealing.

That showing is all the more surprising in view of the fact that Guatemala is a Third World country with a 9 million population of predominantly Mayan and Mestizo ethnic groups, a stormy history (two military coups in the early 1980s and some 100,000 killed in armed clashes between security forces and Marxist guerrillas over the past 30 years), an inflation rate of about 11 percent, and a literacy rate of around 50 percent.

So UFM’s faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni, and supporters, have their work cut out so as to maintain and spread their free-market philosophy. In 1993 Guatemala’s President Jorge Serrano, initially backed by the army, seized the government. Serrano in one stroke clamped down on the press and abolished the legislature, courts, and the national constitution. But in one week the would-be civilian dictator fled the country, and Guatemala’s constitution was restored. Latin American politics in the twentieth century has been anything but calm.

Even so, thanks in part to UFM and its seminal free-market, limited-government thinking, Guatemala’s future is not without hope. That hope further springs from economic success stories in Mexico, Chile, and Argentina—Latin American countries also with recent stormy histories which nonetheless managed to turn themselves around.

How in the world then did the UFM begin? In a nutshell, inspiration and entrepreneurship. Co-founder Dr. Ayau was inspired by the lectures and writings of Mises, and through him by the ideas of Leonard Read and F. A. Harper, says Leonard Liggio of George Mason University’s Institute for Humane Studies.

Adds Dr. Liggio: “Thanks to Mises’ teachings, Ayau and [co-founder and fellow Guatemalan] Ulysses Dent recognized that higher education is the most important contested area for shaping social change and the area in which the socialists have seized most of the ground.”