The University of Puerto Rico student strike, explained
The University of Puerto Rico has been on a systematic indefinite strike since April 5. On that day the strike was approved and since then ten out of eleven (with the Medical Science campus holding a 72 hour strike in lieu) campuses have joined in this strike as a sign of unity.
Students have said that the strike will only be lifted until the following conditions are met:
- That the UPR’s administration shall not penalize any student for expressing themselves and participating in this process of stoppage, manifestation, and conflict in defense of the UPR.
- That all sectors of the UPR community present a university reform plan that represents said community.
- That the Public Debt Auditing Commission and its funds be reestablished immediately, that the auditing process begin immediately, and that a moratorium on the debt be established before and during the auditing process.
- That no tuition increases or tuition exemption eliminations be considered.
- That no budget cuts to the UPR be considered.
These conditions are critical to understanding why the university student body has decided on an indefinite strike instead of the individual and shorter strikes that each campus has made.
The University of Puerto Rico has been threatened by a $450 million budget cut suggested by the Oversight Board and enforced by the government. The students fear that the budget cuts will affect the university’s capacity to attend to student’s needs, to function at its full capacity and that it would mean the closing of campuses. Interim President Nivia Fernandez’s resignation has been solicited by student leaders due to her position in favoring the budget cuts. In February, then Interim President Celeste Freytes had asked as to how the Oversight Board had arrived at what was then a $300 million budget cut. Since then, there has been no answer as to what they are basing their budget cuts on.
There is also the matter of having tuition increased or having it exempted. 70% of the students are recipients of the Pell Grant, allowing them to attend the university at low or no cost. With Puerto Rico’s economy in crisis and a poverty rate of 46% it is important for many of these students, some being the first in their family, to attend a higher education institution as this will guarantee them a higher salary and more employment opportunities in and outside the archipelago.
The auditing of the debt has been asked as a matter of transparency. As mentioned before, the budget cuts aren’t based on any study made by the Oversight Board. The government has insisted that the university do its part in paying the debt yet the students have asked that before doing so, they see where the borrowed money went.
The students of the University of Puerto Rico have decided to take a stance against the government’s attempt to cut education and to pay an unaudited debt as the people of Puerto Rico continue to live in possibly worsening conditions.