UPR board member may challenge process that elected interim president

By The Star Staff

University of Puerto Rico (UPR) governing board member Herman Cestero, who voted earlier this week with two other board members against all of the candidates for interim UPR president but whose votes were counted as abstentions, may challenge the process that led to the selection of César Cordero Montalvo as interim president.

Nonetheless, he said Wednesday that he was satisfied that Emilio Colón Beltrán, the chairman of the UPR board, has decided to evaluate the vote, following a public outcry over allegations against Cordero, a physics professor, including that he allegedly harassed a student.

“It is a step forward. To recognize mistakes is an act of maturity and in management processes and in life, even if they are late, corrections are good,” said Cestero, a retired plastic surgeon and former professor of medicine who was appointed to the board in 2020.

Cordero was selected in a 6-to-5 vote by the board, and three votes that were counted as abstentions were in reality votes against the two candidates.

Cestero voted against Cordero, a former chancellor at UPR-Utuado, and against Brad Weiner, a UPR professor, amid allegations of mismanagement raised against the two. Cestero had asked the board to evaluate former UPR Bayamón chancellor Arturo Avilés, which a committee created by the board to select an interim president declined to do.

The board’s parliamentarian, Miguel Santiago, said the votes against the two candidates had to be counted as abstentions. Cordero was selected by a majority of six votes when, in reality, he received eight votes against.

“Based on the quorum provisions of the University Law, it is clear that an absolute majority to elect the interim president was needed and Cordero had 6 votes in favor and 8 against him,” Cestero said.

Regarding Cordero, Cestero said he was concerned about allegations of sexual harassment raised by one of his students.

The student said Cordero disrespected her by touching her hair without her permission in the middle of the classroom and allegedly made an inappropriate comment. If this is true, Cestero said, then Cordero has shown a serious lack of common sense and sense of human respect.

Cestero said he talked to Fabiana Marini, president of the UPR student council, who said she reported the allegations to the UPR governing board.

Marini told the STAR that she does not know if the student in question officially filed a complaint. In that regard, she demanded that UPR make public the list of all professors and workers who have had sexual harassment complaints filed against them.

“This is extremely serious and must be investigated for the good of all parties,” Cestero pointed out.

The ethical and procedural breaches are not limited to voting, he said, criticizing the selection committee for dismissing Avilés over alleged allegations of mismanagement while others with more serious allegations were interviewed and recommended.

“At this time the search committee must be relieved and dissolved due to its own incompetencies and it should be the Board as a whole that redefines the norms and evaluates and decides,” he said.

Marini said the problem with the selection of the new interim president was the lack of transparency.

“The committee gave the illusion that there was an open process when in reality that was not the case,” she said.

A source within UPR told the STAR that at the root of the problem is that there is a group of top-level officials at the board who wanted to bring Weiner and Cordero as candidates because they saw either candidate as likely to ensure their contracts and maintain the status quo.

Early on Wednesday, Colón Beltrán issued a statement saying that after the governing board voted on Monday for the appointment of Cordero as interim UPR president, concerns and arguments were raised by some of the board members regarding the parliamentary interpretation of the vote.

“As president, I take these concerns very seriously,” Colón Beltrán said. “It is a priority for me as well as for the other members of the Board to maintain an atmosphere of dialogue, harmony and peace among the university community, especially in the face of an important start to classes such as this one, in which [there will be a return to] teaching in face-to-face modality.”

“These types of high university governance determinations have historically been complicated and with them there is always the risk that the entire university spectrum may not be pleased,” he added. “However, in this new Board, since it was constituted, a conciliatory atmosphere of dialogue and openness has prevailed that we are going to continue promoting. That is why, in the face of the controversies that have arisen, the Board will be evaluating the arguments that have been presented with great caution and seriousness and will be determining what the next steps will be in what I trust will be an environment of conciliation. Within this process, the basic principles of parliamentary procedures and interpretations that guided this decision-making will be reviewed with the directors.”

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