UPR in risk of losing federal funds

By: Ada Marie Toraño Rodríguez

A year after the National Science Foundation (NSF) withdrew the funds from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the UPR community it’s taking action to avoid a disastrous outcome.

On April 23, 2012 the NSF, an independent federal agency which supports research and promotes the progress of science, suspended around $20 million in  research funds for the UPR Mayagüez campus (UPRM), Central Administration of the UPR and the Resources Center of Science and Engineering (CRCI in Spanish).  The suspension and debarment is because the UPR and UPRM administration have been ignoring the warnings made by the NSF since May 2010.

The UPR community didn’t know about the warnings or the corrective action plan on February 2011. One of the recommendations made by the NSF to the UPR was for the UPR Central Administration Office to review the roles and responsibilities of the RCSE personnel to prevent any principal investigator from having the ability to make administrative decisions for the RCSE, and maintain appropriate segregation of duties.

The suspension is an action that temporarily withholds Federal support of a project pending corrective action by the grantee or a decision by NSF to terminate the grant. According to an NSF letter to the president of the UPR available at a weblog published by UPRM professors, no costs incurred during a suspension period will be allowable. There will be an exception to those costs which, in the opinion of NSF, the grantee could not reasonably avoid or eliminate, or which were otherwise authorized by the suspension or termination notice, retrieved from.

The UPR receives more than $22 million per year for research and Science and Engineering education from the NSF. More than a half of this fund goes to the UPR and the CRCI. Since NSF started to support UPR research to now, the active projects of the NSF at UPR are around $91.8 million.

When this scandal got out, the students and the UPRM faculty decided to take action in order to save their future. On March 5, 2013 the students and faculty made a protest directed to the Chancellor Jose Rivera Santos. They participated by marching, chanting, making posters and making sure their voices were heard. One of things they are petitioning is for the President of the UPR and the Chancellor to give up their jobs. According to primerahora.com, the Academic Senate of the UPRM and the community are against the University administration changing whenever there is a change political change.

Professors and students protesting in front of the Chancellor’s office on May 5, 2013.

Professors and students protesting in front of the Chancellor’s office on May 5, 2013.

The suspension affects the researchers because the NSF will not process more proposals for new projects even though they are recommended for approval. In addition it greatly affects the reputation we have as an institution, said Leonardo Cabán, Student Representative to the Administrative Board, via email.

Both students and professors who are in charge of research are affected. They can lose their funding for running laboratories and be forced to abandon the research because of the lack of funds to buy materials, said Matías Cáfaro, professor of economic mycology at UPRM.

Miguel Muñoz, president of the UPR, said on March 12, 2013 that he has been doing he’s job in order that the NSF lift their suspension to the funds assigned to this institutions. “The issue has taken longer than I wanted, but the University of Puerto Rico is complicated, the research system is complicated”, he said. “The requirements that the NSF asks us are many and we will meet with them, I have no doubt”. The UPR prepared a Corrective Action Plan, which was accepted by the federal agency on February 3, 2011. The plan’s final report was submitted on March 30, 2012. The president of the education center explained that after several efforts to correct the signs in the processing and implementation of reports of “time and effort”, the Board of Trustees approved three certifications in 2011 in which “established the type of activities and responsibilities that are either not part of the total professional effort, and therefore to be included or excluded from the teacher’s institutional base salary”, reported primerahora.com.

On the other hand, Cabán believes that it will not be possible for the UPRM to retain NSF funds at this point. “The President of the University of Puerto Rico has failed to demonstrate to the NSF that he have made a corrective plan to address this situation. It has already gotten out of hand”.

In July 2011 a draft of the new system was circulated. However, it was not until mid-March 2012, that the president of the UPR issued circular authorizing the implementation of it and until summer of that same year he began working with the new system, hoping to meet the federal requirements.

Another important detail about the exclusion of these funds is that if NSF eliminates their funds to the UPRM, other federal agencies will investigate the university and will be in risk of losing the too. Not only would stop almost all research projects and teaching subsidized in UPRM, but the paralysis may extend Pell Grants. The exclusions are for a period of time determined by the own agency and could be up to three years or even more. During that time the person or entity excluded could not receive or ask for funds from the agency, or any other federal agency, “Possible consequences of exclusion on RUM NSF funds Pell Grants and other agencies, by Félix E. Fernández, professor of the Department of Physics Mayagüez Campus, available at a weblog published by UPRM professors (http://uprm.info/nsf/).

“Short term projects maintained by federal NSF proposals are being held until the suspension is lifted,”said Leonardo. “In the long term it is important to understand the terrible consequences that would entail losing ties with NSF”. This would mean canceled projects, elimination of aid programs, migration of faculty and graduate students with their projects to other universities by a significant decrease in graduate assistantships. “Right now the stability and prestige of the Graduate School of UPRM is at stake. From this blow, it would be very hard to get up”. This would result in a clear and imminent decline in the social contribution of our University to Puerto Rico.

Students with posters protesting and singing so the UPR take action with the polemic with NSF on May 5, 2013.

Students with posters protesting and singing so the UPR take action with the polemic with NSF on May 5, 2013.

 

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