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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

UPR ‘can’t take’ more cuts, officials tell lawmakers

UPR Interim President Mayra Olavarría Cruz

By The Star Staff

In the midst of a joint public hearing on the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) budget, UPR Carolina Professor Alan Rodríguez Pérez said the university system cannot put up with any more budget cuts.

“The university has done its part and the university has reinvented itself. What we are giving is a word of warning that the university is very close to its limit,” Rodríguez Pérez said during the joint public hearings. “We have complied with 92 percent of the measures that have been imposed on us. We can’t take it anymore.”

UPR Interim President Mayra Olavarría Cruz meanwhile called on legislators to protect UPR.

“The country needs a strong university to get out of the fiscal crisis we are facing. Aligned with the public policies of the government, the state university has been active in restructuring its academic offerings and its administrative processes to maintain services to populations that are increasingly socially and economically marginalized and to create areas of knowledge that serve the development of the country,” Olavarría Cruz said. “We request that, just as legislators of the 20th century made sure that Puerto Rico had its university, our legislators today make sure that our people continue to have their university.”

Olavarría Cruz defended the announced allocation of $621 million in the budget for fiscal year 2022-2023 from the general fund, several joint resolutions and student aid for tuition payments. Her defense was based on a summary of UPR’s major contributions to the island. Similarly, she condemned the cuts to which the university has been subjected in the past few years.

“The Medical Sciences Campus has a program for indigent doctors that offers specialized care to more than 27,000 patients participating in the government health plan annually,” she said. “In recent years, this program has suffered significant cuts and although an increase in the government contribution to it is envisaged, it is not enough to match the cost it represents for the university.”

“Our Mayagüez Campus is responsible for the Puerto Rico Seismic Network and the Strong Movement Network, which monitors seismic movements that can affect the island and the Caribbean 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” she added. “In the earthquake events suffered two years ago, their role was vital in preventing a major catastrophe by keeping the population informed during the seismic period.”

Olavarría Cruz also highlighted the importance of UPR’s flagship Río Piedras Campus.

“The Río Piedras Campus is the repository of the largest collection of books on law and literature in the Caribbean and the largest anthropological museum in the country, ensuring the conservation of the historical memory of our people,” she said. “In addition, it offers free professional services through clinics and internships in government agencies, offered by professional schools such as Law, Education, Psychology and Social Work, among others, guaranteeing the protection of the rights and social welfare of a broad sector of the population in vulnerable conditions such as battered women, single mothers, those affected by natural disasters and victims of gender violence. These projects could be affected by the lack of funds to hire a trained faculty to supervise the work of the student body.”

The interim president also highlighted the measures that the UPR has taken in recent years to address the fiscal crisis and to raise its own resources.

“As for the economic return that the university generates for the country, studies show that for every dollar that the central government contributes to the UPR, a return of $1.50 is generated, and for every 100 jobs generated as part of the activities of the institution, 164 additional jobs are created in other areas of the economy for example food businesses, lodging and grocery stores, small businesses that are nourished by the operation of the units,” Olavarría Cruz said.

She noted further that, although the UPR has proven to be the island’s best investment for the services it offers and the return to the economy, it has been the government agency that has faced the most cuts, with a reduction in five years of 52 percent of the appropriations it received from the central government.

“Faced with this reality, the university has been proactive in generating external income,” Olavarría Cruz said.

As an example of the measures undertaken, she mentioned an unprecedented increase in the collection of external research funds, achieving a 37 percent approval rate on submitted proposals, and the creation of more than 1,500 online courses. Almost all face-to-face offerings (97 percent) have been adapted to remote teaching modalities, the official said.

In addition, Olavarría Cruz said, the Arecibo, Aguadilla and Utuado campuses began a Shared Services Model Pilot Plan to maximize non-teaching resources in different administrative offices and the centralization of the Finance and Human Resources Offices to avoid redundancy in order to optimize the corresponding administrative services, among other efforts.

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