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Public mission of UPR seen under fire November 9, 2011 By Rafael R.

Daz Torres Of the Daily Sun staff rdiaz@prdailysun.net Since the student strikes in 2010, the University of Puerto Rico has been under fire as controversies between different sectors and the academic centers administration have shown the vulnerability of an institution that has historically been recognized as the top center for higher education on the island. Recent administrative decisions such as the imposition of an $800 tuition fee on all students, the cancelation of a popular news show on Radio Universidad (University Radio) presumably due to low ratings, the limitation of first amendment rights for protesters on campus, the intention to impose a $600 tuition fee on University High School students, among other issues, have prompted fears among students, professors and workers that the UPR is headed down the road to privatization and the destruction of the mission of public higher education. For Political Science professor Ral Cotto Serrano, the current university administration is betting on a supposed superior fiscal model based on running the institution as a private corporation. If you compare the UPR with other state universities under U.S. jurisdiction, ours is by far the most subsidized academic institution, said the political philosophy expert from UPRs Ro Piedras Campus. In that sense, the UPR is seeking for ways to be more fiscally independent and generate other sources of revenue outside of the state contribution. Cotto, however, is concerned that the drive towards fiscal autonomy is being done at the expense of the public mission on which the university was based when it was founded in 1903. "Services are not [being] measured based on the principle of considering education as a social responsibility, he said. Everything is measured on terms of cost-efficiency and education has ceased to be a social mission and is now seen as a commodity. The scholar questioned whether such an approach would necessarily improve the services and fiscal health of the institution. He said the UPR

administration is trying to sell the idea that presents private corporate models as the only path to improve services and achieve fiscal stability. Private corporations also have their own economic models and you cannot assume that such a model would inevitably solve fiscal problems, Cotto said. While Jaime Bentez served as UPR president, the institution reached a great level of stability and its contributions to the rest of (Puerto Rican) society were tremendous, the veteran professor said. That success was accomplished under a model completely based on the existence of a public university. The public space debate In the UPR v. Laborde (2010) case, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court revised the public scope of the UPR system and decided that the university was not constituted on the premise of it being a traditional public space, but a public space by designation. The court decided that such a principle gave the UPR administration the power to alter the constitutional principle of freedom of expression for all the spaces that are part of the systems campuses. The suspensions announced this week of activist students Ian Camilo Cintrn Moya and Ibrahim Garca Gonzlez for allegedly violating the universitys disciplinary rules have been criticized by their defense, which argued the university is limiting the first amendment right to freedom of expression in public spaces. The Laborde case did not specify that the university administration had the power to completely limit freedom of expression on campus, it just provided some guides to manage it in some cases according to the principle of space by designation created by the Supreme Court, said attorney Yanira Reyes, who is part of the defense of the suspended students. Thus, the 30-year moratorium created by Chancellor (Ana) Guadalupe was unconstitutional as it limited all freedom of expression on campus. The government tries to silence all voices that defend social institutions; by ignoring the public, you are destabilizing democracy, added Reyes. UPR President Miguel Muoz disagrees with such an interpretation and justifies the sanctions imposed on both Cintrn and Garca.

If people in Puerto Rico knew about the actions taken by Ibrahim Garca, they would support the decision to suspend him, declared Muoz in press conference held Tuesday at La Fortaleza. Garca was punished with a for-life expulsion from the UPR and Cintrn received a two-year suspension, plus a two-year term of probation. The Extended University Accessible public higher education is seen as threatened by those who denounce the allegedly planned establishment of the extended university program to all UPR campuses. According to university sources, UPR students enrolled in courses that take place after 4 p.m. will have to pay $30 more per credit. "The UPR Board of Trustees is planning to extend the concept of the extended university to all of the campuses," according to one of the sources interviewed by the Daily Sun last week. The extended university program is currently available in the campuses of Cayey and Bayamn. The sources, both of whom work in the Carolina campus, said that if the program is expanded to all of the campuses, it would deter students from enrolling in courses after 4 p.m. because it will be more expensive for them. For example, a student taking four evening classes would pay an additional $360 dollars per semester or $720 for the year, not including summer courses. "This could result in the layoff of professors," the source said.