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Puerto Rico: University students find themselves challenging the administration and government at the same time

By Natalia A. Bonilla Berrios

SAN JUAN — Empty halls and closed classrooms greeted the Humanities and Social Studies students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Rio Piedras Campus.

Thumbnail image for Teatro y torre UPR.jpgThe University of Puerto Rico is most prestigious educational institution on the Island, and the only one that is maintained by the government, as a public university.

After voting for a cease of activities on April 9, 2010, a small group of students stood in front of the stairs and main halls of these buildings to ensure no one could arrive at their classes — by 7: 30 a.m., two of them were injured by the Police’s Campus enforcement.
A deficit of nearly $100 million in funds, the possibility of cancelling all summer classes and consequently, eliminating the Honor and Sports students’ financial exemptions and overall bachelor’s degrees, are few of the triggers for these protests.
A mural decorates the outside wall of the University of Puerto Rico’s theater while in the distance stands the campus tower. (Photo: Martha R. Alonso)
OCUP(ARTE) Manifesto –The Humanities Committee that’s behind some of the activities during today’s strike — reads: “This is not a defense of the University, it is a redefinition of the university, the one that is horizontal, not hierarchical, participatory and democratic”.
But the Campus Rector, Mrs. Ana R. Guadalupe, has stated today in an open letter to the community that a good number of complaints are based on false rumors. For example, she says summer session 2010 starts today with 153 curriculum offerings after 1,925 students cast their vote in an online survey about this matter.
Nonetheless, tomorrow the General Students Council will hold the Great Assembly at 10 a.m. in the Theater of the Institution, to discuss actions against the politics of the Central Administration.
They are contemplating a 48-hour strike starting this Thursday April 15, although this measure coincides with some students’ hopes of having a long weekend to enjoy and support their Campus Team at the Justas 2010 (Inter-university Championship Games), from April 16-18th.

“The solution can’t be reached by obstructing the administrative and teaching labors or by closing the University”, says Mrs. Guadalupe, and added that all demands must be done “with the University fully functioning and with an honest and open dialogue”.

The President’s demand of students: “flexibility”
The UPR’s President, Mr. José Ramón De La Torre, demanded in a video message that the students’ decisions now will only make things worse.
According to him, “a strike…is the worst alternative to resolve the fiscal crisis” in which the University is submerged in an estimated debt of $200 million.
Meanwhile, the newest president, since the resignation of Antonio García Padilla, which was effective on September 30, 2009, wasn’t anyone’s favorite but the government’s.
A majority of students believed before his election last January 27, Ramón De La Torre had no interest in the University’s communities. 

Based on the decision of the UPR Campus administration, the Theater, where the Great Assembly will be held to discuss what course of action students should take, is expected to be filled to capacity — all 1,674 seats, even though the university has an enrollment of over 20,000.
Strike or no strike, this won’t be the first nor the last time the UPR students challenge its administration, as well as, the government all at the same time.

Learn more about Natalia

Natalia A. Bonilla Berrios is a junior at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) majoring in Journalism and minoring in Political Science, International Relations. Natalia has a 3.90 GPA.

She was the former president of the UPR student chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, a member of the National Society of Collegiates and Scholars and was selected for the ‘Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges’ program, during her freshman year.

In addition, she has worked as an intern reporter for Diálogo Digital, Puerto Rican Center of Investigative Journalism, served as a staff writer for Paréntesis newspaper, and as a volunteer reporter for IDentidad magazine.

Bonilla has served as student representative for the Freedom of the Press Center of Puerto Rico and has been selected as one of the UWIRE’s Top 100 Student Journalists of 2009.







She was selected for the Student Camp at Unity 2008, the quadrennial Journalists of Color Convention and also, as a volunteer for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.


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