Golden age, years of lead
Coppe’s second decade of existence was marked by the great crisis that resulted in the departure of its founder, Alberto Luiz Coimbra Galvão, in 1973. This period was the heyday of the military dictatorship. In a climate of unrest and snitching, the internal conflicts and power struggles evolved in an environment that encouraged threats and accusations that would pass beyond the university’s walls and would find their way to the doors of the regime's security agencies.
The traumatic removal of Coimbra put at risk the very survival of Coppe. For a time, it was feared that the institution would be dissolved within the university into different departments of the Chemical and Engineering Schools. Teachers accused of being lenient with students suspected of involvement in political activities were sacked; others resigned disenchanted.
However, the seeds planted by Coimbra resisted. His principles of commitment to academic excellence and the best interests of the Brazilian society, which Coimbra had transmitted to the faculty and his pupils, were strong enough to resist the difficulties. And Coppe not only survived, but it experienced a step change of its academic output in the years that followed – a transformation that would help it consolidate its position as a producer of knowledge and technology to the country.
The signature of the 1977 cooperation agreement with Petrobras was a landmark of this period. It aimed to develop technology to the oil company for the design of its own oil production platforms. Since then, the cooperation between Coppe and Petrobras contributed to put Brazil among the world’s leading countries in offshore oil-drilling.
The pioneering of Coppe
The early 1970s were marked by the so-called “Brazilian miracle”. The government's strategy was to intensify the import substitution development strategy and to expand investments in infrastructure. The economy grew around 10% per year. As a result, the demand for technology and the opportunities for highly qualified engineers multiplied, which was beneficial to the scientific and technological research institutions like Coppe.
Concerned with the protection of the principles that oriented its creation - academic excellence, full time work and exclusive dedication -, Coppe came up with an unprecedented initiative in Brazil. Coppetec was created in order to regulate the services provided by Coppe’s professors in projects that industries and public agencies had interest. The objective was to ensure that the professors’ academic activities would not be affected by the demands from these projects, and at the same time could still be in touch with the needs of companies and the society. Another purpose was to allow Coppe to use more freely the resources that it accumulated from the projects, that is, without the bureaucratic restraints of government funds.
Coppetec, which decades later would be transformed into a foundation, introduced a model that worked so well, that it inspired the creation of similar bodies in other universities.
In 1970 four more courses were established, * which increased to 11 the number of departments within Coppe. In this same year the first doctoral thesis produced at Coppe was defended, a turning point to the institution. Entitled The finite elements method: theoretical - automation - applications to problems of plates and flat elasticity, the thesis, defended by Alcibiades de Vasconcellos Filho, was presented to the Civil Engineering department.
In 1973, a project in conception since 1971 became a reality. With the support of the Ministry of Planning, Coppead, the first business school in Brazil, was born within the department of production engineering. It was inspired by the courses that by then were proliferating in the United States and that today are widely known as MBA - Master of Business Administration. At that time, the Brazilian schools of business administration only offered undergraduate degree courses. Coppe, a graduate institution in engineering, dared to bring this novelty to Brazil. In the 1980s, the Coppead became independent and took off from the mothership.
This independence would be also observed in other initiatives that were created in Coppe in the 1960s and 1970s and would acquire their own space at the Federal University (UFRJ): the Urban Planning (PUR) sector gave rise to the current Post-Graduate Institute of Urban Planning and Regional Policies (IPPUR); the Math Engineering Program was transferred to the Institute of Mathematics; the Scientific Computing Division, which housed the large computer donated by IBM in the 1960s, became the current Center for Electronic Computer (NCE/UFRJ), and finally from Ecotec originated the graduate course of the Economics Institute of the UFRJ.
On May 18, 1973, the rector of UFRJ, Djacir Menezes, removed Alberto Luiz Coimbra Galvão from the direction of Coppe. It was the outcome of an internal dispute between totally different worldviews. The cultural euphoria revolving what was new that characterized the turn of the 1950s to the 1960s was seen as transgressive by the political elites that emerged with the 1964 military coup.
While in the 1950s president Juscelino Kubitschek was praised by singers and composers as the “bossa nova president,” during the administration of General Emilio Medici (1969-1974) intellectuals and artists such as Chico Buarque, Augusto Boal, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and others, were forced to go into exile.
The much-known boldness of Coimbra, which years earlier had prompted him to bring the best scientists to Rio de Janeiro, whether they were from the Soviet Union or the United States, did not help for an alignment with the regime. Always willing to do what he thought best for Coppe, Coimbra would just go on, and ignore the ideological polarizations.
In the early 1970s, upon Coimbra’s invitation, three professors from other institutions arrived at Coppe to coordinate three departments: Biomedical Engineering, Systems Engineering and Electrical Engineering. One of them - the coordinator of Electrical Engineering - was a general.
The three clashed with Coimbra’s progressive vision, whose goal was to create an innovative institution that encompassed programs; and not the repetition of the formula of individual departments. They questioned his managerial methods and stimulated the opening of a commission of inquiry in the university. Soon enough, the existence of such a commission was reported to the feared Federal Police.
That is how an internal dispute eventually ended up involving the organs of repression from the military dictatorship and resulted in the sacking of Coppe’s founder.
On May 18, 1973, the rector Djacir Menezes removed Coimbra and named in his place Sydney Martins Gomes dos Santos, vice-rector of UFRJ, Professor of the School of Engineering and professor of the Civil Engineering department at Coppe.
Sydney chose as his deputy one professor very close to Coimbra, the chemical engineer Carlos Alberto Perlingeiro, who strived to help him manage Coppe and, specially, to ease the agitation within the institution. On the one hand, that gesture highlighted the intentions and merits of Coimbra’s ideas and actions. On the other, it helped the director mollify his difficult relationship with the faculty.
Despite that, there were rumors in Coppe’s corridors that it would be shut down and its departments allotted to the School of Engineering and the School of Chemistry. Insecure or disenchanted, several professors decided to leave. Students were convulsed. In mid-1973 they went on strike against delays in scholarship payments. The mood on campus became even more turbulent.
Afterwards, a conflict erupted in a multidisciplinary area subordinated to the Production Engineering Department called Urban and Regional Planning (PUR). In practice, the PUR worked as a department and had its own coordinator. It was created with the support of the federal government through the National Housing Bank (BNH). Unlike other programs, mainly filled by engineers, in the PUR predominated professors and students of Architecture, Urbanization and Social Sciences. They had a more critical stance regarding the government policies.
In 1976, a professor of PUR accused colleagues of disseminating Marxism in their classrooms. The director of Coppe, Sidney Santos, decided to dismiss seven of the 12 professors who worked there. Three professors left, dissatisfied with the situation; consequently, the multidisciplinary area was closed.
Seen as interventionist and with suspicion by students and professors close to Coimbra, Sydney Santos’s situation became even more fragile with the PUR crisis. The choice of Perlingeiro as deputy director and the sacking of the three coordinators who had triggered the crisis that led to Coimbra’s departure were not enough for Santos to increase his popularity.
Coimbra, at this point, was in an obscure post as advisor at Finep and was defendant in aprocess before the Federal Court. On August 12, 1976, respecting the recommendation of the prosecutor José de Oliveira Bastos, the Judge José Gregório Marques from the 4th Federal Court declared extinct the case against Coimbra.
The founder of Coppe remained in ostracism until 1981, when the dictatorship started to cool off and the education minister himself, Colonel Rubem Ludwig, granted Coimbra the Anísio Teixeira Award. In 1984, with the military regime on its wane, Finep returned Coimbra to the UFRJ. The founder then went back to being a professor at Coppe. He was 60 years old. He returned to his origins as a professor at the Chemical Engineering department. Coimbra taught in this department for nearly a decade until in 1993 he retired from the UFRJ as professor emeritus.
In December 1973, Sidney wrote the following on Coppe’s tenth anniversary: “[...] the great debt is to Professor Alberto Luiz Coimbra, [...] who gave everything to Coppe in these ten years: work, caring, application, effort and even health.”
In 1995, the institution Coimbra dreamed of and built gave him one of the greatest recognitions that someone can get in life. It was renamed the Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute of Graduate Studies and Engineering Research. It kept, however, the acronym the founder had chosen 30 years earlier: Coppe.