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Students request review of lawsuit against UPR

By on April 20, 2017

The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Clock Tower in Río Piedras campus. (iStock Photo)

The University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus clock tower (iStock Photo)

SAN JUAN – Several students who sued the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Río Piedras Campus, filed a writ of certiorari Thursday before the Court of Appeals. In the writ, the students challenge the decision of the Court of First Instance denying their request for preliminary injunction and mandamus to open the gates of the institution, which have remained closed since the end of March.

School of Law students Anamar Menéndez González, Astrid Burgos Nieves, Rosaima E. Rivera Serrano, Carlos Vicente Villegas del Valle and Gabriela Firpi Morales; and Edwin Francisco Rivera Otero, from the School of Business Administration of said campus, filed suit March 31, demanding guaranteed access to the campus, that it be determined that the administration of the UPR does not have the authority to prevent free access to the premises, and therefore requested the immediate issuance of a remedy.

Following the hearing on April 4, Judge Lauracelis Roque Arroyo denied the preliminary injunction, stating in her partial judgment that although the dean is responsible for keeping the gates open, she must also “comply with the institutional policy aimed at handling such situations.” In addition, the court also found that the internal resources were not exhausted in an effort to resolve the conflict, as well as lack of follow-up to the communication.

In the 28-page legal document filed Thursday, the appellants argue that the Court of First Instance erred in not granting the mandamus after finding that the UPR “is taking affirmative actions conducive to fulfilling” its institutional duty to keep the university open because they understand that the post-secondary institution could not establish the existence of a mediation process that includes students against the strike.

“During the cross-examination completed by the plaintiffs’ counsel, the acting dean admitted that none of the plaintiffs was part of the alleged mediation process, based on alleged confidentiality of the process and an agreement to that effect. This agreement, however, was not presented and has yet to be presented,” reads part of the legal appeal that also states that the acting dean, “aside from relying on dialogue,” did not demonstrate the existence of other efforts to reopen the gates of the Río Piedras Campus.

Another of the errors raised by the students opposed to the UPR’s closure relates to the court’s position regarding the Coexistence Policy that favors the dialogue process and that was one of the points considered by Judge Roque Arroyo in denying the suit on April 7.

“We must keep in mind that the institutional policy on coexistence is a very general document that does not mention cases such as the one currently occurring at the University. This policy makes no mention of stoppages and strikes,” the students said in the document. In addition, they argue that, historically, the UPR has not handled this situation correctly.

Finally, the students cite the requirements outlined by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court in UPR v. Laborde, a case in which the university sued student representatives during the 2010 strike to order them to open the gates, arguing that the injunction should be granted because, otherwise, the institution is exposed to “drastic actions for its failure” to offer classes, since the gates remain closed.

“As held by our Supreme Court, students of the UPR have a contractual relationship with said institution. The main obligation of the UPR under this contract is to provide the education that it promised to its students as part of its academic offering. This contractual right of the UPR students to receive the education promised by the University does not allow intervention by any ‘group of students, official or not, be it a majority or minority’[.]”

While the plaintiffs acknowledge that the university’s authority merits deference when dealing with situations involving freedom of expression in the UPR, they emphasize that “the omissions of said institution have caused it to remain closed since March 28, thus failing not only in its primary contractual obligation to the students but in its educational mission, as well.”

The students argue in their appeal that while the Supreme Court was clear in Laborde when it held that “the right to protest by [people holding the ‘strike’] and those who think like them is unquestionable. What they do not have a right to do is to force others to join in their protest.”

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