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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Public opinion is divided on RCM chancellor’s appointment

University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus Chancellor Ilka Ríos Reyes

By The Star Staff

Opinions about the protest at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Medical Sciences Campus (RCM) were divided Wednesday, with one sector saying protesters ignore evidence showing that RCM Chancellor Ilka Ríos Reyes engaged in no wrongdoing.

Students launched an indefinite strike Wednesday after UPR President Luis Ferrao Delgado declined to remove Ríos. The students argued that the School of Medicine’s accreditation is at risk because of an agreement Ríos made with the parents of a minor medical student to avoid putting the school through a lengthy lawsuit.

Former UPR President José Saldaña blasted Ferrao for coming late to Ríos’ defense, blaming the current UPR president and the university’s governing board for what is happening.

The RCM campus has a population of around 4,835, including students, residents in different specialties, faculty, and non-teaching employees. Various organizations represent those groups: the Academic Senate, the Association of University Professors, the General Council of Students RCM UPR, the Brotherhood of Exempt Non-Teaching Employees and the Workers’ Union, while some people are not affiliated with those organizations, Saldaña said.

On July 25, several officials sent the UPR governing board a letter on stamped paper bearing the logos of the School of Medicine and the provost’s office, which gave the impression of being an official document from the institution, opposing Ríos appointment.

“That letter with the supposed endorsement of five deans also contains the signature of 318 students, faculty and employees claiming to represent the university community of that campus and opposing [Ríos’] designation,” Saldaña said in a written column. “The signatures of 318 people represents 6.5% of the total population of the facility.”

“Ríos is highly qualified for the position that President Ferrao has recommended,” the former UPR president continued. “She has a doctorate in dental medicine, a postdoctoral master of science and a residency in maxillofacial radiology. She has been a teacher at the RCM for more than 40 years. She has administrative experience, becoming dean of students and the vice president of academic affairs at the UPR. She is also a person of character who cannot be manipulated or intimidated by groups outside the best institutional interests.”

“On a campus with more than six chancellors, both permanent and interim, for more than four years, it was time to finish appointing a person like Dr. Ríos to end the serious problem of administrative continuity and governance,” Saldaña said, adding that Ferrao and Ricardo Dalmau, chairman of the UPR governing board, should have come out more forcefully in favor of the appointment instead of leaving Ríos alone on Sept. 1 to defend herself.

He also blasted the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) for interfering in the appointment and turning it into a political debate.

“This censure of the PDP politicians for their interference in university autonomy should have fallen to the president of the institution, Ferrao, and Dalmau, chairman of the governing board,” Saldaña said. “But once again the ineptitude and cowardice of both of them was revealed for not being able to forcefully defend the appointment they made and for not being able to censure the partisan political interference in internal affairs of the university such as the appointment of a chancellor.”

“This entire process against Dr. Ríos originates in the reality that this is a person who is not from the ideological left, and that she is the type of person who is not intimidated by threats from ideological groups,” he said.

The protesters are ignoring a probe by a UPR investigator that refuted a 2022 probe that concluded that Ríos violated internal processes when she reached a settlement with a minor-aged medical student who had failed several courses, Saldaña pointed out.

The investigation was conducted by Maritza Miranda López, a notary public and lawyer hired by former RCM Chancellor Carlos Ortiz late last year to determine if there should be disciplinary actions against Ríos, a source familiar with the situation said. The report based on the investigation is addressed to Ortiz and Alfonso Fernández Debs, head of the Legal Advisers Office.

Miranda López disagreed with the findings reached by Alondra Fraga Meléndez, a UPR investigator, who concluded in 2022 that Ríos violated internal processes and acted unilaterally when she reached a settlement with the parents of a 15-year-old medical student to avoid a lengthy litigation against the campus for failing to provide psychological and other aid to the student. Fraga Meléndez said Ríos did not have the authority to reach a settlement because that responsibility fell to the UPR president.

Miranda López disagreed, noting that Ríos was the highest authority at RCM and had the power to settle with the minor student.

PDP Rep. Héctor Ferrer Santiago, meanwhile, joined the chorus of voices in support of School of Medicine students in their demonstration against Ríos’ appointment.

“The Student Council of the School of Medicine collected the opinion of the student enrollment concerning the appointment of Dr. Ilka Ríos Reyes as chancellor of the Medical Sciences Campus,” the freshman lawmaker said. “This process revealed the strong rejection by the students and faculty of the RCM School of Medicine of the appointment of Ilka Ríos Reyes.”

According to data provided by the School of Medicine, 97.7% of RCM medical students are against the appointment.

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