TBY talks to Cecilia María Vélez White, Rector of Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano, on the impact of its new university building, developing agricultural management programs, and becoming an innovative university.

Cecilia María Vélez White
From 2002-2010, Cecilia María Vélez White served as Minister of Education. She graduated with a bachelor’s in economics from the Universidad de Bogotá Jorge Tadeo Lozano, a master’s in economics from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and attended a special program for Urban and Regional studies at MIT.

Tadeo recently inaugurated a new building for its school of art and design. What impact will this have on the university and neighborhood?

Our university is in the center of the city and is one of many schools: there are estimates that up to 200,000 people study in the center of Bogotá each day. This includes both traditional and new universities that have decided to stay in the center, making it difficult for a private university to remain here because people are moving to the north of the city because they are convinced the historic center has deteriorated too much. With about 10 other universities, we are working together in security and combining our efforts when it comes to things like cultural activities. We are trying to carry out some activities to give life here in the center a new meaning. This movement has only begun to happen in the last five to six years. So not only is the building important for our university, it is part of this broader strategy to revitalize the center. Tadeo is also a cultural center in and of itself; we have many concerts, exhibitions, and galleries here. We dedicated our newest building to arts because the arts are strong here: about 35% of students are from the faculty of arts. Together we have four schools: arts, engineering, sciences, and social sciences and administration—but the largest is the arts.

What roles can agricultural and rural programs play in a post-conflict era?

For example we are experimenting with seeds and other similar things to see if they can be profitable and see if they can be marketed, which is extremely important. Now we are signing projects with the government with all the money said to be coming with the arrival of peace. The only way to recover the places where violent groups once reigned is by giving them the possibility of doing something meaningful with their time and energy. That is the usefulness of these kinds of experiments and research. We are also trying to develop a program that can go throughout the country offering agricultural management in over 150 small medium-sized municipalities. The challenge is seeing the accord as part of a broader agricultural agreement. Even for the guerrillas, the most important thing to making the peace sustainable is the development of agriculture. This process is a wonderful opportunity for the country to focus on the energy of the country and try to recover various rural areas, but also to come to terms with the violence we have across the entire country.

What is your current progress toward your Vision 2020 goals?

We want to be recognized by 2020 as a very innovative university and have the products that represent this innovation. The laboratory is important in this regard. Thus far, we have decided to fund 15 projects in the arts and sciences that are now in their early stages. We also want to support innovative teachers in the biological field by supplying them with the classroom technology and methodologies required for groundbreaking experiments. Yet we also keep the students at the very center of our focus. What is more, we are working to remain technologically innovative and to internationalize our curriculum by emphasizing student exchanges. Our goal is to have 1% of students study abroad. In internationalizing the curriculum, we can also bring the world to the students. With more than 120 teachers from 120 universities around the world coming here to teach or attend conferences, this is not hard to do. We are also reinforcing our relationship with China through the Confucius Institute, improving our exchanges with China and bringing Chinese culture here to the campus. This is one of our social missions: to have a very wide array of students of all backgrounds here and something we want to preserve.