• The San Juan Daily Star

UPR governing board president opposes university reform bill

Mayda Velasco, president of the University of Puerto Rico governing board

By The Star Staff

University of Puerto Rico Governing Board President Mayda Velasco objected on Monday to Senate Bill 172, the proposed university reform, because it would alter governance structures and put at risk UPR’s accreditation, she said.

The legislation was recently defeated in the island Senate but is expected to return to a vote. Velasco said in a statement that she believes that if the bill is approved as it is written, it would disrupt critical aspects of the governance structure that would be inadmissible under the criteria and standards of regulatory and accrediting entities, thus endangering the accreditations that the university has maintained or recovered with notable efforts.

Despite the fact that the governing board expressed itself in a document issued in February of this year, neither then nor now has it been consulted as part of the process of consideration of the legislation, Velasco said. In this sense, the bill does not have the input of all university sectors, she said.

“Although on the one hand the declaration of the UPR as an essential public good as proposed by Senate Bill 172 is favorable, the bill disfigures the most fundamental governance structure and distances itself from what is required by the accrediting agencies,” Velasco said. “Likewise, substantively, the bill ignores or disregards aspects of public and operational policy at the same time that it violates the authority and autonomy required for healthy governance.”

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) standards require universities to have a constituted governing body with defined powers. The University Reform establishes that a university council would replace the governing board as UPR’s governing body, but it dilutes its powers and makes it a ratifier of the determinations of the university board.

“It would be in the University Board in which the powers and duties regarding the approval of the budget, the appointment of the University president, the policies on personnel management, the appointment of certain managerial personnel, among others, which are properly powers [that are] inherent elements of a governing body in a corporation,” Velasco noted. “In this sense, the governance model not only does not comply with what is required by the creditor, but it also generates a complex and confusing framework that deteriorates the cohesion of the governance.”

The governing board president pointed out that the interim UPR president, Mayra Olavarría Cruz, “is wrong to indicate that this does not pose a risk to accreditation.”

“It is enough to understand the requirements of the accrediting agency to realize that the bill is in contravention of them,” she said. “It is the responsibility of the interim president in her role to pay attention to these delicate administrative and governance issues and how they would be disrupted if this measure becomes law.”

Velasco in turn urged the members of the island Legislature to really consult with all the sectors that make up the university community and not to “limit themselves to an exchange exclusively with the promoters of the measure.”

“The University is an extremely valuable entity that has served Puerto Rico well, and whose structure is complex,” she said. “To reduce the analysis of its governance, its operation and its future to the promoters of a measure is to unduly skew the reflection on the future of the most critical institution in the economic, intellectual and cultural development of Puerto Rican society.”

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