December 6th, 2010
by Joel D. Rodríguez Rivera
The higher education in the public system of Puerto Rico has been standing at the edge of a knife.
The student body of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) has been up to date regarding any issues that relate to the current situation of the system, especially any actions from the administration since they have fallen into probation due to inefficiency to fulfill their jobs towards the higher education of the students.
Since the last student strike that ranged from April to June of this year, the UPR has suffered a great deal of changes that has affected the students in general, from economical to educational issues.
Ten of the eleven UPR campuses were put on probation by the Middle States of Higher
Education for not fulfilling in three standards, Leadership and Governance, Academical Offering, and Academical Resources, after the student strike. After September, the second of the previous list was removed since they fulfilled in the requirements of academic offerings. However, the remaining standards add pressure to the administration to deal with the economical deficit of the university.
The administration resolved in putting into effect next year, on January 2011, a stabilization fee of $800 that the students have to pay if they plan to continue to study in the public system. In reality, this fee will be used to cover the loan that the UPR administration made because of the lack of funds they were receiving from the government.
The student strike had a great influence in the acknowledgement of such information since they forced the Board of Regents to be transparent, giving up all the documents that they had that concerned the UPR system and the student community.
As a consequence, students have made demonstrations where they are against the implementation of the stabilization fee that the administration is forcing on their registration of next year. Approximately 15,000 of the students will be unable to pay this fee, forcing them to drop out of the public system.
A number of student groups from different campuses such as Río Piedras, Cayey, and Mayagüez, to name a few, have made their voice heard by organizing manifestations such as marches and speak outs to inform part of the student body that remains ignorant to the crisis that faces the UPR system and the student body. For example, in October many of the student organizations made protest marches against the stabilization fee, such as “Colegiales en Acción” (CEA) in Mayagüez. Some departments of the Río Piedras campus, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Education, closed in opposition.
As January comes closer, many of the Student Councils from a variety of campuses have organized student assemblies where they vote for or against the stabilization fee and another strike in response.
In some campuses such as Carolina and Utuado, they have decreed “paros” of 24 to 48 hours. In other campuses it is yet to happen. However, there are some campuses such as Mayagüez campus that have had different results.
In the student assembly organized on Dec. 2 in that campus, the proposal for “no fee and no strike” was approved. Many students, before voting, had to endure waiting in line for approximately two hours before the assembly began.
Many of the students had made already expectations of the outcome of that assembly, from the experience of the previous ones before the strike. The assembly was attended by more than 2,000 students, according to the Facebook page of the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM).
Some students from campus like Nichmarie Soto (Psychology), Etzy Cruz (Biology), Ricardo Ruiz (Geology), all from the Arts and Sciences Faculty, expressed that, like most students, are against the implementation of the stabilization fee and point that the administration is to blame for the economical deficit of the UPR system. They fear of what will come of their futures if another strike carries out, such as the closure of the public system. However, Ruiz added that “if the price of the fee reduces I’m willing to pay.”
Many of the representatives of each debate, such as the ones in favor of another strike, Alberto Rodríguez, and the ones against, Eduardo Náter, presented and argued to a vast majority of the UPRM student body and council members. The Rafael A. Mangual Coliseum, where the assembly was held, was packed with students that roared and expressed themselves fully to the proposals that every group made. Everyone was tense from all the activities that were in progress during the assembly.
One of the proposals was for the administration to remove the $800 fee before the 14th of December; in case it didn’t happen, another assembly would arise. This motion was approved by 1,840 students who voted in favor.
After what seemed an eternity, the assembly came to an end when the vast majority of the student body voted in favor of the proposal: To remove the stabilization fee but to keep the campus open. However, the question still remained: What are we going to do if we refuse to pay the fee but also refuse to go on strike?