By Ignacio Garcia Conway
On March 21st, after hours of long debate, the students of the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras campus (UPRRP) voted to go on strike from March 28th to April 6th. Rooted in mass disapproval of the Fiscal Oversight Board’s suggested $450 million cut to the University’s budget, the decision to protest came as no surprise. The Governing Board of the island’s largest academic institution has until March 31st to submit a fiscal plan as it deals with student unrest and searches for a new president.
The Oversight Board’s proposed spending cuts will reduce academic offerings, implement an income-based tuition system, and centralize administrative units. Current interim President Nivia Fernández disclosed on March 17th that the Governing Board had identified $221 million in cuts and new income. “A reduction of $450 million will cause the island’s public university education to disappear,” emphasized Fernandez. Since then, she has refused to present a fiscal plan to the Oversight Board and requested a meeting with the Board’s president.
In response to heavy criticism, Governor Ricardo Rosello petitioned the Oversight Board to reduce the cuts to $241 million. To do so, the governor identified $209 million dollars that would be transferred to the University system in the next four years upon Board approval. Rosello still warned students of the consequences of a prolonged strike, specifically those regarding the University’s accreditation.
Former President of the Rio Piedras Campus Student Council Guillermo Guasp commented on the institution’s recurring fiscal problems through social media, “The UPR must reinvest its funds to achieve optimal efficiency and its restructuration. If not, it will continue in a vicious cycle of budget cuts.” With four days until the submission deadline, a long-term plan of reinvestment seems unlikely. If Fernandez fails to reach an agreement with the Oversight Board by the 31st of March, students will likely vote for an indefinite strike starting on April 6th—bringing more chaos to an already sinking ship.