UPR board approves motions aimed at reopening striking campuses
By The Star Staff
The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) governing board approved four motions last week, one of which will activate disciplinary committees for students who violated university rules and another that would ban the release of public funds for work not performed because of the student strike.
A third motion will allow each provost to negotiate an end to the strike but only with the Student Council, which is the official representative of the students. A fourth motion will allow each campus whose face-to-face classes have been interrupted by striking students to provide classes online.
The motions were approved in an 8 to 4 vote. Board members who oppose the motions, who represent professors and student groups, described them as promoting an environment of confrontation.
They also protested that they were not informed about the drafting of the motions prior to the meeting, which took place Nov. 17.
UPR board chairwoman Margarita Velasco acknowledged that the board members who represent students and professors were kept in the dark about the motions because she wanted to avoid a leak of the information. One of the board members, Eliud Rivas, who represents the students, said he generally consults with the students before voting.
“I am as equal as the others,” said Margarita Villamil, a board member who represents professors. “I can’t believe we are being penalized without evidence.”
The board members representing the student community, however, were allowed to make amendments to the motions and discussed them.
The motions came after UPR Interim President Mayra Olavarría Cruz six weeks ago activated dialogue committees that were tasked to meet with student groups to help reopen the campuses currently on strike: in Mayagüez, Humacao, Cayey, Bayamón and Río Piedras.
Olavarría Cruz said the Arecibo and Ponce campuses were reopened and that there are agreements to reopen the campuses in Río Piedras, Mayagüez and Cayey that need the green light from the provosts. Humacao already provided a list to the provost and is waiting for a response.
“And whatever is agreed upon can be renegotiated,” Olavarría Cruz said. “That does not mean the campuses will reopen tomorrow, but online classes are continuing.”
However, at least one board member told the STAR that he and other board members believe the dialogue committees are not yielding the desired results.
Regarding the motion that will stop payments to professors and employees who are not working, Velasco said the decision will not impact those workers who are being prevented from doing their work by the striking students. The motion follows a law approved during the 2017 student strike.
The STAR has received reports about students taking online classes in the Natural Sciences Department, whose professors are merely sending them the class material but are not conducting classes. The board member consulted by the STAR replied that the provost will have to make a determination in those cases.
Villamil and Jorge Rivera Velázquez, a board member who represents graduate students, argued that the motion that allows provosts to negotiate only with the student council was detrimental because it invalidates the input from other student and community groups.
Olavarría Cruz asked Velasco if the student council motion invalidates the dialogue committees.
Velasco replied that dialogues or talks with student groups can continue but “when it comes to the negotiation, it should be between the provost and the student council, which is the official representative of the students.”
One of the board members told the STAR that the goal of the motion is to provide a more organized manner of ending the strike.
Velasco noted that the motions were written at the request of the 11 provosts, who asked for the governing board’s help to give them more leverage to achieve the reopening of the campuses. Under the law, students are not allowed to strike.