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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Union files complaint after contracts of 2 outspoken professors are not renewed

María del Mar Rosa Rodríguez, president of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors, second row middle

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU) President María del Mar Rosa Rodríguez on Tuesday condemned the dismissal of two professors from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Río Piedras Campus as retaliation against the union for denouncing practices that undermine academic excellence in the General Studies Faculty.

“After [the administration eliminated] English and Spanish workshop courses due to budget cuts to the UPR, the APPU published a bulletin denouncing the unjustified elimination of these courses on Wednesday, May 22, 2024 and two days after the publication of the newsletter, the professors received dismissal letters,” Rosa Rodríguez said. “One of the professors is secretary of the APPU National Board. Both have been vocal in defending these courses and were fired without further explanation, despite their academic excellence and excellent evaluations.”

The union leader emphasized that the two laid-off instructors were left without a job for the next year solely for expressing their academic opinion, despite having served in their respective departments for many years, while people closer to the administration are employed despite having less experience and fewer qualifications. As a result of the dismissal of the professors, and given the refusal of the UPR president to meet with the APPU, the union filed a complaint of union retaliation before the Labor Relations Board on Monday.

“The UPR administration has to understand that the teaching staff voted in October 2023 to have a teaching union. Teaching is protected by law against these acts of abuse due to union activity,” Rosa Rodríguez pointed out. “These are clear examples of union retaliation, and as a teaching union that is focused on defending academic excellence at the UPR, we are not going to allow retaliation against APPU teaching staff who exercise their right to express themselves and criticize what we see as incorrect. That is why we have filed a formal complaint with the Labor Relations Board for union retaliation and it is up to the UPR to respond. Both dismissals are unjustified. There are procedures to establish an order of priority and a registry of eligibles that allows departmental directors to hire teachers based on merit and not because of cronyism. These processes were not followed with the [dismissed] teachers; they were [laid off] just for raising their voices.”

One of the two dismissed professors is APPU National Board Secretary Verónica Castro Tirado, who has been a full-time professor in the Spanish Department for five years. She coordinated the curricular review of the laboratory courses in the 2019-2020 academic year. She has won research grants in the discipline after submitting external funding proposals.

The other dismissed instructor, Dr. Rosa Mejías, a non-tenured professor in the English Department who is also affiliated with the union, has been teaching courses in the department since 2017 with excellent evaluations, the APPU president noted. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mejías assumed departmental coordination from 2020 to 2023. She had to coordinate the intensive English courses, including laboratory courses. She was always a defender of the courses, and for raising her voice against budget cuts, she was fired, the APPU president reiterated.

Rosa Rodríguez added that both professors, who have served the UPR well and are prominent in their fields, received letters indicating that their contract would not be renewed in August.

María Gisela Rosado, president of the APPU chapter at the Río Piedras Campus, defended the instructors’ position in advocating for the permanence of the courses that address the linguistic gap of students who need to improve their reading and writing skills in both languages.

“The APPU has been emphatic that these laboratory courses should not be eliminated because the student body needs them,” she insisted. “No matter what a student is going to study, his/her command of Spanish and English is necessary. After the delays caused by Hurricane Maria and the COVID pandemic, it is even more urgent to maintain these remedial laboratories in English and Spanish so that every UPR student acquires the necessary linguistic skills to develop in the profession they have chosen. These Spanish and English laboratories serve, above all, socioeconomically disadvantaged student populations, whose purpose is to improve their skills and adapt to the required university level, which is why teaching has always defended these courses.”

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