UPR Researchers are Running on a Tight Rope

For the last seven years, the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) has consistently failed to meet 32 items in its contractual agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF), which caused $52.1 million in research funds to be withheld by the NSF in April 2012.
A letter sent to the UPR President Miguel Muñoz by the Grants and Agreement Officer Jamie French stated the NSF conducted a site visit to UPR in February 2010 and stumbled upon some significant findings that needed to be dealt with, thus, it worked with UPR to develop a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). The title of “Continued Delinquency” was given to UPR since it failed to address the elements of the CAP.

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The National Science Foundation’s logo. It is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science and advance national health, prosperity, and welfare. Image source from http://www.nsf.gov/about/.

Muñoz made the first official letter to the UPR community in August 2012, which many claim was awfully late considering that NSF decided suspend funding in April 2012. He explained the situation and assured that the UPR showed some progress.
Heading out to the corridors and lounges of the UPR-Mayagüez campus, I surveyed engineering and natural science major students about their knowledge of this situation, and how
they would feel if their research projects were shut down due to lack of funds. Ten students were surveyed; 8 of them had no idea this situation was occurring. However, all of them expressed disappointment about hypothetically losing such an opportunity.
Leonardo Marreno, an Agronomy graduate student, was one of the two students who knew something about the suspended funds. “I heard something about that from my colleagues and professors. Graduate students depend on research to progress,” he said.
Rafael Estremera, a Chemistry Ph.D. student, expressed that his investigations remained unaffected. “I was just reading an article about that a while ago, the situation seems to be getting out of hand,” he said, expressing concern. “I can address you to somebody that has really been affected this situation. Meeting Estremera lead me to consult Professor Nelson Cardona, faculty member of the Chemical Engineering Department.

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Professor Nelson Cardona in his office in the Chemical Engineering Department of the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez Campus. He claims that he is doing everything he can to maintain his projects active.

“I am part of four projects sponsored by the NSF, which includes the ‘Wisconsin Puerto Rico Partnership for Research and Education in Materials’ and the ‘Research Experience for Teachers’, two that I am fully in charge of, ” Cardona started, expressing a face of grief. “The last proposal I submitted was for a total of $4.5 million, where $3.5 million go to the Wisconsin Puerto Rico Partnership.”

These funds, however, weren’t provided because of the suspension. Cardona
stated that the University granted the necessary funds, but he was told where these funds came from and was convinced that if the suspension wasn’t removed, all research would be eliminated and the University wouldn’t be able to submit any proposals for at least three years.
“Graduate and undergraduate students form part of these projects. The salary of 12 graduate students is paid by the research they form part of; most of them use this salary to pay their studies,” he continued. “If they come from other countries and lose their research opportunity they would need to stop studying and return to their homes. The University would have to eliminate the graduate program in this campus!”

This fact affects the performance of the students.

Cardona assured me that the University would have to pay a minimum fine of $100 million, which is something that the UPR does not need. “In a flash, this University would go back to the state it was 30 years ago. It would be
disastrous.”
“I believe I deserved an explanation for this outcome. They have
handled this so poorly.”

The suspension of the funds has caused more damage that any student could imagine. The irresponsibility of theadministration of UPR has damaged the prestige this institution has and a strong response must be taken to get it back. The situation must be taken out of the darkness and all students must be aware of this menacing problem.

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