Student Riots and Other Issues

It is during relatively uneventful days, such as today, when I come to the university for my first day of Summer GTA training and it turns out that it’s not today, that I am able to sit back, relax, and think about uninteresting topics, such as the state of higher education in the island that I left last weekend.

 The gold standard of Higher Ed. In Puerto Rico has always been the state university, the University of Puerto Rico. In this institution students receive the best training from the best professionals from the world over. To say that the University of Puerto Rico is among the top 5 universities in the Caribbean / Central and South America areas is no understatement, and that it is the best university in the Caribbean (with the exception of Cuba’s school of medicine) is a fact. In some disciplines the University of Puerto Rico can go head to head with the best universities in the United States, sometimes even the world. This is specially true of Graduate Studies. UPR’s Ph.D. and Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) programs are among the best in the United States, its school of medicine is constantly ranked among the world’s top 20, and it has hands-down the best Caribbean area studies program in the world, even trumping that of Rutgers University. Students who enroll in private universities in the island do so because they are denied enrollment into the highly coveted UPR programs. Sure, they may say things like “in UPR it takes 6 years to graduate and in my university I graduate in just four years”, but the fact is that most employers will favor a UPR graduate who takes 10 years to complete his or her degree over a student of a private institution who took 3 years to complete his or hers.

This, however, may change during the next few weeks.

Roughly 45 days ago the students declared a strike against certain measures that the administration was taking.  The administration was set on increasing tuition cost, adding additional fees, lowering course offerings, and hiring less tenured professors. The students, faced with a sudden number of decisions that might impact the quality of their education negatively, decided to react. They met and declared a strike. The administration, in return, declared strikeback.

While I definitely agree that the hiring of only adjunct professors will decrease the university deficit, I also know that tenure incentivizes the professors to be at the vanguard of their field. A university that hires only adjuncts to teach courses will get a highly unmotivated faculty who does not care very much about research or teaching quality. On the other hand, a faculty who is offered the chance of tenure will engage in professional development and constant investigation in order to secure rank. I also side with the students in regards to the course offerings. It seems to me inconceivable that although the administration is bent on cutting costs and raising tuition they would also lessen academic offerings. With more of an income and less expenses, it seems only natural to offer more courses. However, the administration seems perfectly content letting individuals take ten years to graduate from what will become a mediocre university in the next eight. Furthermore, I disagree with any additional “fee” that the administration tries to impose on students. Students already pay a large number of upkeep and technology / lab fees when they enroll every term; the addition of an $800.00 “help with our deficit” fee seems to me not only unfair, but unwarranted. That being said, UPR is, as a friend and colleague said the other day, “the cheapest university in America”. This is not something to be proud of.  While I certainly see the appeal in the $35.00 per undergraduate credit and $50.00 per graduate credit costs (this comes out to about $1,000.00 per academic term including the fees, about $2,000.00 a year) most public institutions across the U.S. offer a similar level of education for about three times the expenses. Students in UPR often complain about how their facilities “suck” and how “they are paying for it”, but if you think about it in pure economics, a 20 student undergraduate course would make an income of about $2,000.00. That’s the adjunct professor’s salary for that course (it costs more to pay for a tenured professor). That being the case, if we keep up this trend, who will pay for the administrative personnel who does the enrollment and processes your government grants for you? I certainly agree with a hike in credit cost, so long as it’s not something outrageous. Perhaps, $100.00 per undergraduate credit and $150.00 per graduate credit should be enough.

Now that you, dear reader, knows what’s going on at UPR and where I stand, it’s time to go back to a previous statement I made: “This, however, may change during the next few weeks. “

Because of the strike, UPR has lost Title IV funds (which include Pell Grants) and might be in danger of losing one of its accreditations. With that on the line, I would ask: “is UPR losing its accreditation worth you making your political statement?”

I think my answer would be “absolutely.

During the past two years Puerto Rico has been governed by a man who is neither a “leftist extremist” or “right wing lunatic”. He is neither a “conservative” nor a “liberal”. He is a man who is largely unconcerned with the affairs of the island he governs, and who has been “privatizing” it (political terms for selling it to himself and his connections for cents on the dollar) and screwing over “the people” while doing so. This man, Luis Fortuño, has a plan now of “selling” UPR, the state’s finest institution of higher learning, to his friends from Ana G. Mendez, an institution that has a reputation resembling that of a diploma mill. In speaking out against this, the students’ strike was  quickly taken in by “the people” and slowly this pokemon of a social event evolved from “student strike” to “national strike against Fortuño’s dictatorial rulings”.

As things are, the events have died down a bit. There are no longer riots on the capitol’s steps, protests in front of the police headquarters, or policemen treating students as if they were terrorists. Still, one must wonder if this is because the police has beaten the people into submission, because certain groups got what they wanted, or because the people went to their homes to organize a larger protest. I think the last option is the likeliest.

That being said, I’m currently in Texas (the reason why I haven’t posted in a while is because I have been moving) and none of these events are of direct concern anymore, so even though my heart will be with you Blakeans in Puerto Rico, my mind will be on other things. I wish you all the best of luck, and godspeed.


About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on July 12, 2010, in Education Commentary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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