Race for UPR’s Presidency Continues Despite Strike
SAN JUAN — While most of University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) campuses are closed because of a student strike to protest massive cuts that could hinder the island’s public institution of higher education, the race for the UPR presidency has remained active.
Former UPR Bayamón Chancellor Arturo Avilés, one of five candidates running for the job, recently met with professors from UPR’s Aguadilla campus to discuss his proposals and their concerns despite the ongoing strike.
Besides Avilés, the other candidates are interim President Nivia Fernández; Economics Prof. Marta Quiñones; Finance Prof. Carlos Colón de Armas; and former UPR President Miguel Muñoz, who headed UPR during the 2011 strike.
Avilés said all candidates are qualified for the job and opted to speak only about what he is proposing to stave off deep budget cuts to the tune of $150 million next year. As of presstime, UPR had yet to submit its fiscal plan to the Financial Oversight & Management Board, but last week the entity rejected Puerto Rico’s petition to go to Title III bankruptcy proceedings, contending it has the money to pay its debts but the funds were frozen under the Moratorium Act.
Avilés, who is also a Business Administration professor, is no stranger to difficult situations and has had experience in managing an entire campus and fund raising. As the UPR Bayamón chancellor, he left the campus with a certified $9 million surplus. He is a member of the University Board and headed the University Athletic League for two years. He vowed to meet directly with members of the oversight board to lobby for UPR if he is chosen for the job.
“Truly, UPR will suffer a considerable impact on its budget under the fiscal plan and my working plan seeks to explore other avenues that would allow us to level the effects of those cuts,” Avilés said. “We cannot distance ourselves from the reality: UPR has been depending on government funds for too long.”
His proposals include capturing the online market of students by creating a virtual university, which he called “Campus No. 12,” which would allow students to take classes online or attract what he called the nontraditional student.
He will also launch the so-called “academic tourism” initiative to bring foreign students to Puerto Rico. “Many students will come here because we are still more economical than other universities,” he said.
No to tuition hikes, campus closures
Avilés opposes a substantial hike in student tuition because of the impact on students who must pay room, board and books. He also opposes closing small UPR campuses as others have proposed. He noted that the Bayamón campus, which is the system’s third-largest campus, serves students in Barranquitas and Comerío. “What will happen to a student in Jayuya who has no transportation?” he asked.
He proposes that other campuses should specialize in programs that the main Río Piedras campus cannot offer. For example, the UPR Carolina campus already specializes in hotel management and the auto industry. “I want to open a veterinary school on the Utuado campus. The Aguadilla campus could develop aerospace programs,” he said.
He also said the night-class program should be broadened. Right now, only a few campuses, namely Bayamón and Aguadilla, offer night classes.
With the enhancement of continuing education or professional programs, Avilés hopes to attract professionals seeking to broaden their skills. He said degrees that are no longer feasible because they have low demand or will not provide employment after graduation should be merged into other programs.
Avilés is also proposing to overhaul the university’s intellectual property office to allow campuses to get money from royalties and patents for new inventions.
Another one of his initiatives involves increasing UPR’s Endowment Fund, which consists of gifts from donors, by seeking help from the island’s diaspora and private businesses. He proposes that each campus has its own Endowment Fund.
What will UPR do with the inventory of properties that it has inherited? Avilés said he would conduct a study to determine which of them could be sold in an effort to obtain revenues.