Friday, December 6, 2019

On-going Puerto Rican Student Strike Paralyzes University

Despite receiving little to no attention in the mainland press, thousands of University of Puerto Rico students have shut down all 11 campuses on the island in a protest over increased student fees and tuition.  University officials issued a deadline to student leaders earlier this week in an effort to end the six-week old strike that has kept 65,000 students out of classes.

Like many college systems on the mainland, the University of Puerto Rico was hit hard by the financial crisis on Wall Street.  In fact, these impacts were felt on the island far and wide as its main sources of income – tourism and manufacturing – were badly  affected.  In order to try to reduce the deficit, Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Fortuño laid off more than 20,000 public employees earlier this year.

The unemployment rate jumped to 17.2% in April in Puerto Rico, where the poverty level was at 45% even before the financial collapse. For young people on the island, a college education is their only chance to beat the odds.

Tuition in the Puerto Rican university system has remained at a low $2,000 annually due to a guaranteed 9.6% tax revenue set-aside.  Scholarships are also made available to some students.

However, now faced with severe budget shortfalls, Fortuño has proposed measures that some fear would lead to privatization of the university.  In addition to the systematic changes, students would face a new $1,200 fee and a reduction in scholarships.  Legislators have countered with their proposal to increase the corporate tax rate in order to maintain funding levels for the university.

Earlier this week, university President José Ramón de la Torre issued a deadline for students to cease their occupation of campus’ buildings.  The deadline was rejected and the following day brought a strained standoff with increased police presence.  After about 7 hours, the administration agreed to continue negotiations at a later date.

For their part, the students are receiving the support of much of the public who can sympathize with their economic plight.  In addition, the faculty senate of all 11 campuses met two weeks ago for the first time as a joint session and voted overwhelmingly to support the students’ demands.

The student strike is one of the longest and biggest in modern US history and continues without end in site.

NY Daily News

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