UPR students vote to end two-month strike
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico’s largest public university is reopening after a two-month student strike that led to the resignation of its president.
During their fifth general assembly, students from the university’s Río Piedras campus voted on Monday to end a strike that began in late March to protest $450 million in proposed budget cuts sought by the Financial Oversight & Management Board created by the federal Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa) to monitor the island’s finances.
A court previously ordered officials to reopen the university on May 11 and has issued nearly $30,000 in penalties since that date, or $1,000 for every day gates remained closed. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education also placed eight of 11 University of Puerto Rico campuses on probation in part because of the strike.
The island’s governor is seeking $200 million in cuts at the university.
The university’s previous president and several other top-level officials resigned in February to protest the budget cuts.
Fiscal board chairman José Carrión stressed after a meeting on May 24 with student representatives from the UPR’s 11 campuses that said the federal fiscal entity “supports the University of Puerto Rico and understands the important role it fulfills on the island,” but reiterated that the government’s fiscal plan will require “difficult but necessary choices” from the academic community.
He added then that the University Board is responsible for developing the UPR’s fiscal plan, which was supposed to have been presented by March 31 for the fiscal entity’s consideration, but was allowed time extensions.
Moreover, the president and vice-president of the University Board presented their resignation on May 23, along with another board member and former UPR interim president Nivia Fernández, which means the University Board lacks a quorum to carry out its duties and present the UPR’s fiscal plan.
Natalie Jaresko, the fiscal board’s executive director, said during the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association convention last Thursday that the UPR “plays a critical role in the economy,” but at the same time, the commonwealth faces a severe fiscal crisis and “everyone needs to share in that pain,” thus echoing the oversight board chairman’s declarations.
She noted that the cuts to the university should serve as an incentive to find other sources of revenues that it can attract, including additional funding in Pell grants and federal research funds.
The UPR serves more than 50,000 students across 11 campuses. The system already has been hit with nearly $350 million in cuts in recent years, and professors have been denied sabbaticals and salary increases.
The proposed cuts are among several measures the oversight board is pursuing to reduce government spending as the U.S. territory prepares to restructure a portion of its $73 billion public debt load under the bankruptcy process included in Title III of the federal Promesa law.
—Caribbean Business contributed to this report.