2 ex-UPR presidents question pilot administrative consolidation at 3 campuses
By The Star Staff
The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) governing board voted without doing adequate analysis in favor of a pilot project that would consolidate administrative services at three campuses, and at least two former UPR presidents and a lawyer who has held positions in government said it will not save money.
Former UPR presidents José Saldaña and Norman Maldonado, as well as Héctor Ramos, a lawyer and former consumer affairs secretary, said in separate interviews with the STAR that they failed to see at all how the pilot project that would consolidate the administrative services of the Aguadilla, Arecibo and Utuado campuses will save much-needed funds at a time when UPR is losing enrollment and budget cuts.
When asked about the reasons for the board’s vote, Hermán Cestero, a board member, said the body had very little time at all to review the report on the proposed pilot project and that he voted using as a basis the explanation given at the board meeting last week. He said he reasoned that the pilot project is only for six months and that if it does not work, it can be reversed.
“I am not clear about the savings. The presentation was short and we were not given ample time to review the proposal,” he said. “The way I understood it, it was an administrative consolidation that paves the way for an academic consolidation.”
In proposing the consolidation, the UPR governing board president, Mayda Velasco, said that at a systemic level, the university has lost in the last five years 28 percent of its enrollment, 28 percent of its staff due to attrition and 51 percent of allocations from the central government.
Regarding enrollment, Arecibo has experienced a 26 percent drop, Aguadilla 37 percent, while Utuado has 67 percent fewer students. Regarding its budgets, Arecibo has experienced a reduction of 16 percent, Aguadilla 11 percent and Utuado 23 percent. These data lead to an increase in cost per student that in Arecibo translates to a 13 percent increase, in Aguadilla reaches 41 percent, and in Utuado translates to a 133 percent increase in cost per student.
The proposal seeks an administrative transformation through the reengineering of the operation and provision of some services in the three campuses with an investment of $1.4 million per year. The pilot plan is expected to begin next semester.
The program provides that each participating employee and unit will be incentivized for participating in the project. The project would involve 541 employees, 149 positions and 94 offices among the three participating units. Some 164 permanent positions would be created, 137 employees would receive salary increases and 204 employees could receive differentials for functions that exceed their current duties.
Saldaña, who has been vocal in his criticism of the current governing board, said that based on the numbers, the best alternative is to close down some of the campuses, but the current board refuses to take the bull by the horns and do so for political reasons. He noted that the Utuado campus has fewer than 500 students and it does not make sense to keep it open.
“This board needs to stop acting cowardly and with fear,” he said.
Maldonado also said he was confused by the proposal.
“I fail to see how investing $1.4 million and adding more workers will reduce costs,” he said. “The best thing is to consolidate services.”
Ramos, meanwhile, observed that at a time when enrollment is going down, the proposed pilot project will increase costs.
“There is no justification for having the three campuses,” he said.