By José G Grau
The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) system is in danger of losing funds and a long time relation with one of the foundations responsible for UPR research programs. The UPR has been threatened by the National Science Foundation because of the maladministration of funds and misreporting of researcher’s working hours. This problem can represent a loss of over $ 20 million.
Furthermore, the reason for the suspension of these funds dates back to 2010 when the university was warned about 32 faults or violations that should be improved in relation to the use of funds and time spent on research supported by the NSF. The NSF is a foundation created by the U.S. Congress in 1950 and has aided the UPR since 1980. From 2010 until now the administration has not been able to propose any plan for the required improvements. As a result the funds the UPR receives from NSF have been frozen.
Consequently, one of the warnings the NSF stressed in the status report on 2010 that the UPR Central Administration Office should review the roles and responsibilities of the personnel to prevent any principal investigator from having the ability to make administrative decisions, and maintain appropriate segregation of duties. “They have to prepare a proposal defend it and have it approved in order for them to resolve the problem and receive the funds” said Melba Serrano Lugo, admissions director of the UPR – Aguadilla.
In fact, NSF has been a very prestigious foundation and very well defended by the United States. According to the NFS official website, in the last fiscal year they administrated $ 7,373 billions for the purpose of research programs. NSF’s public investment in science, engineering, education and technology helps to create knowledge and sustain prosperity. NSF is responsible for most of the research projects in the United States and Puerto Rico.
“The UPR is at risk of being excluded from the NSF, which means the loss of aid from other federal agencies, which have similar regulatory approaches.” said Sandra Zapata, nursing professor at the UPR-Mayaguez. “This would mean the loss of funds obtained through competitive proposals from researchers of the UPR who were awarded for their innovative ideas”.
All agencies dealing with the institution are instructed that if one of them, in this case NSF cease funding. “Others have to be prepared to do the same. Usually it is a red flag for all of them” said Hector Monclova in a story published for the benefit of public opinion on March 21, 2013. The halt of federal grants could affect work study and salaries, and student loan programs. Also The UPR is responsible for 95 percent of Puerto Rico’s scientific research, which makes it a national problem.
“The arrest of $ 52.2 million has already affected several studies such as one conducted at UPR Rio Piedras regarding the treatment of cancer with nanoparticle” said the journalist Hector Monclova. It is noteworthy that $17 million of these funds are not recoverable.
In October 2012 NSF began a process of legal research and by 2013 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) joined this research. When a federal agency intervenes it means the magnitude of the issue has increase.
At this point, the problem according to an article published by Caribbean Business on March 14, 2013 is that some professors have had an increase in salaries by more than 100 percent. According to the NSF, Manuel Gómez, the director of the Resource Center for Science and Engineer (CRCI , for its Spanish acronym) and professor with a career spanning of more than 40 years has doubled his salary from 2010 to now, by the mere fact of being a director.
“What is happening is that teachers who have a long career in the UPR and who have been responsible for most of the research funds think this gives them power to seize these funds and use them for their benefit” said Professor of Electrical Engineering Lionel Orama, while he explained the situation to his students.
For Edwin Caraballo Méndez, assistant director of Traffic and Surveillance in UPR – Mayagüez, there is no incentive or will to change the current status of the funding that was recently frozen even though already millions of dollars have been removed from research programs to this day. This means that those frozen funds have a huge probability of being taken away for the next five years.
Nevertheless, we know that this case is not only seen in the UPR but also in several prestigious institutions of the United States. But what makes this case unique is the questionable delay making a plan of correction.
Yet there is a deficiency of transparency of the administration and the Board of Trustees of the UPR. In recent days the students asked the governor to dismiss the Board of Trustees to see if in this way they began with the restructuring of the UPR.
“The autonomy of the UPR cannot be a shield for incompetence that puts into play the most important project that this country has”, emphasized a Professor of the School of Law of the UPR.
The faculty of the UPR – Cayey passed a resolution on March 12, 2013 demanding the resignation of UPR President Miguel Muñoz, President of the Board of Trustees, Luis Berrios Amadeo, and the Rector of the UPR – Cayey, Juan N. Varona Echeandía.
A lot of UPR member from professors to students are disappointed with how the central administration of the UPR lack of transparency and respect for our country’s education, taking us into new messes that are surprising for college society. This situation is threatening the future of a globally recognized institution in which the most advanced research in the world take place.
“I believe that both the government and the people of Puerto Rico should be alarmed, given that this issue not only affects students and teachers, but it affects the community at large” said the spokesman for the Association of Graduate Students of Chemical Engineering, Y. Ephraim Aymat