Open Letter In Solidarity with the University of Puerto Rico
To Whom It May Concern:We are Puerto Rican faculty in the Diaspora and other faculty throughout the United States and we are gravely concerned about the fiscal crisis affecting the University of Puerto Rico. We stand in solidarity with the student movement in Puerto Rico in rejecting the proposed cuts of up to $512 million to the University of Puerto Rico, its only public university system. The cuts, scheduled to be implemented through academic year 2025-2026 would have the effect of crippling one of the top 15 higher education institutions in Latin America.
We are outraged that Wall Street banks are being placed before the interest of the people but we are not at all surprised. Last summer, President Barack Obama signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act or PROMESA, a law meant to push forward a debt relief plan to bring Puerto Rico out of severe fiscal chaos. But half the board was named by Republicans, and the members all have significant ties to the financial community.
Yet even before the board began its work reports by the Hedge Clippers and other advocacy groups have been raising questions about conflicts of interest among the appointed members of PROMESA’s Fiscal Oversight and Management Board “La Junta”) for their ties to the same creditors lobbying heavily to get their money back. One of the board’s members, Carlos García, once worked for the same bank, Santander, that eventually underwrote a “massive issuance of questionable debt” that exacerbated the situation.
Seven months later, the unelected board in charge of the financial future of Puerto Rico appears to be more of a debt collection agency for banks, vulture funds and other creditors, instead of representing the interests of the people of Puerto Rico. At the same time that ‘La Junta’ and Governor Ricardo Rosselló are proposing to cripple the University of Puerto Rico, they are also advocating for “economic development.” It is an illusion to stimulate economic development by drastically defunding the major institution producing the professionals needed to keep the Island afloat. According to University officials, the cuts could result in the total destruction of the public higher education system on the Island.
The potential $512 million in cuts constitutes close to half of the budget for the country’s premier public university, with 11 campuses, 65,000 students, 10,000 non-teaching employees and 5,000 professors. Though it varies from campus to campus, half of the students overall come from the public-school system. For this reason, the UPR remains one of the chief conduits of social mobility on the island.
When he was first elected in November, Governor Rosselló promised to avoid layoffs. But the current plan is in obvious contradiction with this pledge. In response, the UPR student movement has mobilized, first with a work stoppage and the Rio Piedras campus closure that began on March 28 and in early April the national student assembly approved an indefinite strike on almost all campuses. An island-wide work stoppage has been called for Monday, May 1.
We support and encourage the student movement to keep fighting for the people.
We will also join with the students to advocate for the reinstatement of the independent public Debt Audit Commission, which the Governor dismantled, so the people of Puerto Rico know where the debt came from and are not held responsible for the debt that was acquired illegally. A ReFund America Project report revealed that nearly half the debt owed by Puerto Rico is not actually money that the island borrowed, but instead interest owed to investors. When the city of Detroit faced bankruptcy several years ago, a federal judge found that a portion of Detroit’s debt was illegal, declaring that it should not be paid.
The demands made by the student movement include:
- An independent audit of the debt, by reactivating the state-legislated non-partisan commission, reinstating its members and allocating funding
- That the governor declares no cuts for the university or in its offerings to service the debt.
- The approval of university reform promulgated by the university community
- That the university president declares students participating in the strike will not be sanctioned
We stand in solidarity with the students making these demands and with the more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans who have petitioned the legislature to reactivate the independent Debt Audit Commission.