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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

UPR presidential candidate has a lot of explaining to do

By José M. Saldaña

The selection process of the next president of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) must be transparent and strictly based on the merits, assets and concrete proposals of the candidates. There can be no room in that process for partisan politics. Of course, candidates can have their own political and philosophical ideas, whatever they are, but they should not be evaluated or driven by partisan considerations, nor should they be conducted ideologically in their performances since their executions have to be aimed at all sectors of the institution.

It has been publicly revealed that Dr. Luis Ferrao Delgado, in his quest for the presidency, requested support from an organization called Fuerza Universitaria Estadista, which is attached to the New Progressive Party (NPP). One of its members and leaders acknowledged this in an email. This is serious and Ferrao has to explain it. If it is confirmed that he requested such support and meetings were held and/or political efforts and moves were made in this regard, which of course are now denied, then Dr. Ferrao disqualified himself in his presidential ambitions.

The Río Piedras Campus, despite being the emblematic unit of the UPR, has not shone for years. On the contrary it has deteriorated, without exhibiting the grandeur and leadership it once had. It would be logical to think that if its current chancellor (Ferrao) aspires to the UPR presidency, it is because he has been a transformative and inspiring leader on his campus and has elevated it to higher levels. Is that so? Apparently not. Let’s see.

Last October, the interim president of the UPR, Mayra Olavarría Cruz, accompanied by the chancellors, went to the Education Committee of the House of Representatives to ask for more money for the UPR. At that hearing, chancellor Ferrao alerted the committee to the significant loss of students in the institution. Ferrao said student enrollment in the public university system is now 60% lower than it was 40 years ago, in the 1980s.

He pointed out that the number of students at the Río Piedras Campus of the UPR is decreasing dramatically.

“If this trend continues, in less than six years we will have fewer than 10,000 students on the campus,” the chancellor said.

In the 2021-2022 academic year, there are a total of 13,917 students for a loss of 22% of students in the five-year period in which Dr. Ferrao has been in the chancellorship.

We have to ask ourselves what has the administration of that campus (specifically chancellor Ferrao) done concretely in that period of time to stop that loss. … What marketing strategy and effective plans has he put in place? How has the budget been adjusted to compensate for this reduction in admitted students?

In addition to the above, his campus has had a decrease of about $80 million in its budget. How many of those millions has Ferrao managed to replenish with innovative and entrepreneurial initiatives to generate its own funds? We are not talking about funds for scientific research, which are extremely important but limited for research purposes; they are funds that cannot be used for the general operational administration of the campus.

Asking for more money in the current fiscal circumstances is unsustainable. Complaining and leaving everything as is, is not an option. … The situation no longer tolerates hollow and pompous verbosity to describe good future intentions. The time has come to be specific. It is necessary to present concrete ideas and plans to execute in order to recover the competitive capacity that the campus Ferrao heads once had. In a private university faced with this situation, his resignation would have been demanded without further contemplation.

On another important issue, it is at the Río Piedras Campus where former President Jorge Haddock -- who was dismissed by the UPR Governing Board -- obtained a teaching position in the College of Business Administration. One wonders if Haddock is indeed teaching at the College of Business Administration on the Río Piedras Campus. And if that is the case, is he doing it in person, as is required of the bulk of the teachers? Or is he doing it from his residence in the United States? And if so, based on what criteria? The same as those for the other faculty? And if he is not teaching classes, for what academic tasks does he receive a salary? What is he doing? What is his work and evidence? Can he present them? When did it start? In August 2021, when he left the presidency? If so, how were his tasks determined? When Haddock was dismissed there was very little time left to start that semester, so it is important to know whether or not he received preferential treatment. Does he receive it today?

The questions listed above must be answered by chancellor Ferrao, so that there are no doubts or obscurities. He must do so because he currently aspires to the UPR presidency and his management must be transparent and, above all, exemplary.

José M. Saldaña is a former president of the University of Puerto Rico.

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