Carolina campus student council opposes choice for short-term UPR interim president

By The Star Staff

The student council of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Carolina campus criticized the UPR governing board for selecting board member Jorge Valentín as short-term interim president for two weeks as it finds ways to fill the vacancy for interim president.

The UPR Carolina students said that while Valentín was the Carolina campus chancellor he allowed the installation of an “illegal” communications antenna that was rejected by the university and nearby communities, including the Plaza Escorial Shopping Center. Some of the nearby communities have sued the campus.

Valentín hired JJ Site Developers to build the antenna without taking the contract to bids, the student council said in a statement.

“We would like to know and the community deserves to know why the Board appointed such a [controversial] person and [one] who does not have the credentials to fill the position of interim president,” said José Rodríguez Cruz, a representative to the University Board (Junta Universitaria).

The students said that during the time Valentín was chancellor, from August 2017 to July 2020, he suppressed the free speech of students and was confrontational with student groups. Two UPR Carolina professors said on condition of anonymity that Valentín put individuals without the needed qualifications in positions of power at the campus. Those individuals allegedly hindered and persecuted professors.

Valentín retired in 2020 and despite receiving UPR retirement benefits, was appointed as a member of the governing board.

Last week, the governing board selected César Cordero, a natural sciences professor, as interim UPR president, but after allegations of possible sexual misconduct came out and one board member questioned the manner in which the vote was conducted, the board withdrew Cordero’s appointment. The UPR Board is in search of a new president after dismissing Jorge Haddock, whose tenure ended Saturday.

Also on Saturday, the governing board held several votes to select a new interim president. In the final vote, they voted from among Wilma Santiago Gabrielini, vice president of philanthropy at UPR, and Ubaldo Córdova Figueroa, the executive vice president of academic affairs and research.

While Santiago got seven of the votes and there were 13 board members present, the governing board decided she needed eight votes to become interim president. Therefore, her selection was discarded.

Board member Herman Cestero then suggested selecting one of the board members as interim president while the governing board decides its next steps. The suggestion was opposed by Governing Board Chairman Emilio Colón, who insisted that an interim president had to be selected.

The board selected the temporary interim president from between Valentín and fellow board member Margarita Villamil. Valentín was selected in an 8-4 vote.

Former UPR President José Saldaña criticized the actions of the governing board. First, he said Santiago should have been declared interim president because she had a majority vote.

“However, this Mr. Colón -- who at all times has proven to be a little dictator who did not want to interview an honest candidate such as Dr. Arturo Avilés -- did not want to acknowledge the triumph of architect Santiago and invented a hoax -- with the consent of other members of the board -- for the board to administer the university for the next 14 days,” Saldaña said.

“Supposedly within 14 days another voting process will take place,” he added. “Meanwhile, the former chancellor of Carolina, Jorge Valentín, a member of the board, will act as interim president. I don’t see what real moral power this professor will be able to have during the next 14 days to make decisions in the presidency. It is truly shameful on the part of this governing board.”

Valentín, who was appointed in September 2020 to the governing board by then-Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UPR in 1974. In 1976 he completed a master’s degree in telecommunications and in 2008 he obtained a master’s degree in non-profit entities from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón. He also has a master’s degree in coaching and a doctorate degree in health care facilities administration from Florida Christian University.

After the vote, Colón concluded the virtual meeting in which the work was carried out to the objection of Jorge Rivera Velázquez, student representative at the graduate level, who requested that the next steps to fill the vacancy of president be kept public.

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