• The Star Staff

UPR community to march against $94 million budget cut

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Professors, students and workers of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) met Wednesday to announce a march on Friday to defend the public institution of higher education and protest the $94 million budget cut certified by the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) for fiscal year 2021-2022.

During a press conference, Puerto Rican University Professors Association Organization Coordinator María del Mar Rosa called for islanders to join the demonstration, which will begin on the north side of the Capitol in Puerta de Tierra and proceed to La Fortaleza Street. The future budget cut, she said, is “unsustainable and many campuses are in danger of becoming inoperative as educational institutions in Puerto Rico.”

Rosa said the march would demand the restoration of 9.6% of the government’s revenue to the university’s budget, as stated in Act 2-1966, also known as the University of Puerto Rico Appropriations Act.

“UPR’s annual budget before the FOMB arrived was at $833.9 million; according to the FOMB’s approved fiscal plan, we would be having a $407 million budget this year,” she said. “This is less than a half of the budget that is obliged to us according to this law.”

“We understand here that UPR is not an expense, it is an investment,” Rosa added.

She urged the island Legislature to pass Senate Bill (SB) 172, which seeks to repeal Act 2-1966 and establish the “UPR Act,” which would allow the institution to be recognized as an essential service and, according to the language of the legislation, would “guarantee robust and stable public funding, which cannot be eroded through the implementation of other public policies, thus allowing it [the UPR] to have the necessary resources to fully comply with its mission.”

SB 172 was penned by independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot, Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sens. Javier Aponte Dalmau and Marially González Huertas, Citizens Victory Movement Sens. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén and Rafael Bernabe Riefkohl, Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. María de Lourdes Santiago Negrón, and other PDP legislators.

Meanwhile, Non-Exempt Employees Brotherhood Vice President José Torres said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s recent allocation using federal funds obligated by the American Rescue Plan Act would solve the budget cut, but added that such an action “is like putting a bandage on a bullet wound because it does not protect the budget and leaves the university with the same results.”

“The cuts continue to contribute to the deterioration of the working conditions of university employees,” Torres said. “The budgetary situation of the UPR has caused fundamental elements of our collective bargaining agreement such as the medical plan, maternity rights, tuition exemptions for children of employees, and our retirement system, to be disrupted.”

Juan José de Jesús, the General Student Council president from the Medical Science Campus, said the march was necessary because the approved fiscal plan “continues placing student sectors in greater precariousness.”

“While the rest of the world, including the United States, looks for options to make university studies more affordable, the FOMB makes our pockets bleed,” de Jesús said. “Likewise, the plan seeks to increase the credit cost and reduce the number of professors, the latter of which would lead to fewer class sessions.”

“The university would lose its capability to provide the academic mechanisms to graduate in the desired time,” he added. “If we don’t have classes, we can’t graduate; these budget cuts are what put the university’s accreditation at risk, just like we saw when we lost the Neurosurgery Program accreditation.”