UPR Río Piedras Campus to go on strike against austerity measures
SAN JUAN – Students of the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) Río Piedras Campus approved Tuesday a stoppage and a strike, rebuking the budget cuts and tuition hikes considered for the academic institution. Moreover, they are demanding the public debt be audited.
The resolution approved in the student assembly establishes a stoppage on Tuesday, March 28, and ending April 5, National Student Assembly day, and an indefinite strike to begin April 6. However, the students had previously decided that the agreements reached during the National Student Assembly would be binding.
The student assembly comes a day after the UPR board met to discuss the university system’s fiscal plan and the vacant board seats. The meeting was interrupted by students protesting outside the Botanical Garden headquarters.
Since the previous assembly, held Feb. 21, the students have been arguing for the need to audit the public debt before establishing negotiations with creditors. Many student groups believe a large portion of the debt was illegally issued. Furthermore, in recent days, various student groups have alluded to the dispute presented by Cofina bondholders as a validation of the illegality of at least a portion of the debt. Cofina bondholders argued in court that some of the general obligation (GO) bond issuances are extra-constitutional because they exceed 15% of total revenue, which is the government’s constitutional cap on debt issuances.
This student assembly did not just ask for the public debt to be audited, but also that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló reestablish the Debt Audit Committee with its budget and its original members. Soon after he took office, Rosselló dismantled said committee.
The students also are protesting the budget cuts included in the fiscal plan that was certified by the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board. On March 9, the fiscal control board asked the government to cut allocations to the UPR. The original sum was of $300 million.
Another hot-button topic for the students is the possibility of a tuition hike to comply with the $450 million in cuts. During the last UPR board meeting, university interim President Nivia Fernández said that an increase in the cost of tuition will be the last element to consider and that she is trying to focus on other ways to achieve the adjustments required by the government.
On the other hand, Fernández indicated that they are reviewing previous “strategies” the administration has used such as gradual increases established in 2005. When it comes to a mean-based tuition system, Fernández, said that since the UPR doesn’t have the needed systems, it could be implemented no sooner than the 2018-19 academic year. Any increase to tuition costs would need to apply broadly.
In the same meeting, UPR board members continued to urge Rosselló to fill the five vacancies in the 14-member body.