The current fiscal situation in Puerto Rico has placed the UPR at enormous risk.
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March 20, 2019
Members of the US Congress
Washington, DC 20515
Honorable Members of the USA Congress:
We, USA citizens from diverse sectors in Puerto Rico and abroad, respectfully ask that you to take immediate action to guarantee the stability of the Island’s most comprehensive social, economic, cultural, and educational project: the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). The current fiscal situation in Puerto Rico has placed the UPR at enormous risk. Established by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA, enacted by Congress in 2016), the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) has systematically and disproportionately reduced the budget to the UPR which has resulted in negative consequences related to the University´s accreditation. Continued cuts to the University´s budget could result in the disruption of course offerings or even the closure of the only public higher education system on the Island.
The FOMB has proposed the consolidation of our eleven campuses; drastic cuts to our program offerings, tuition hikes of over 100%, all of which will undoubtedly impact access to higher education on our Island. Such cuts would also systematically threaten human rights in PR, as it would infringe on access to higher education for Puerto Rican students, particularly to those living in poverty. It would also undermine the possibilities of developing the high-qualified professionals needed to recover, from both, the Island’s colossal debt and the catastrophic impact of two recent hurricanes.
As described in the letter sent to you by the UPR Río Piedras Campus, Academic Senate, on behalf of the community it represents, the UPR system2 has served for over a century as the most important means of affordable and high-quality education on the Island, particularly to economically disadvantaged students and to those from vulnerable communities. It offers and ample array of over 450 academic programs, of which 90 are unique to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. UPR has multiple collaborative agreements with prestigious institutions in the USA, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe, and conducts over 80% of all post-secondary research in Puerto Rico. Throughout its existence, UPR alumni have made significant artistic, social, educational, cultural, and scientific contributions that are recognized worldwide.
The survival of the University of Puerto Rico, the only public university on the Island, composed of eleven campuses, is at great risk after receiving the status of “Show Cause” by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). This status requires the documentation of financial resources and planning, with evidence and projections of present and future financial stability. At the core of the “Show Cause” status is the precarious financial situation created by the sustained and disproportionate financial reductions imposed on the UPR over the years.
The current budget in the UPR system reflects a reduction from $1.46 billion in 2006 to $885 million in 2018. Continuing the reductions required by the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), will create the conditions for the withdrawal of the accreditation. Loss of Accreditation, in turn, would imply the ineligibility for federal funds, which are used for financial aid for students, and research grants that originate from the Federal Government. It would also hinder the offering of the high-quality professional and academic programs that characterize UPR and could potentially lead to the closing of the institution.
As part of your immediate actions, we ask you to exercise your power as lawmakers and policy reviewers to guarantee access to public higher education in Puerto Rico. This includes establishing limits to the recommendation of the FOMB regarding the funding and organization of the UPR. Specifically, we recommend that you:
- Enact policies that immediately stop FOMB’s systematic and disproportionate reduction of funds that have placed the UPR at enormous risk.
As of now, the FOMB made recommendations to the Central Government and offered a baseline number of the amount of funding that the UPR would need to sustain itself, without requesting an audit of the debt of Puerto Rico or requiring the Central Government to identify the essential services for the population. Education is an essential service for the development and growth of the economy in any nation.
The Central Government Financial Plan for the next five years, amended by the FOMB, will assign the UPR $442 million by 2023, which represents a reduction of more than 50% as compared to 2016’s Central Government appropriations. This places the UPR at a growing risk. In their 2017 UPR audit report, Ernst and Young stated that these financial conditions, amongst others, raise serious doubts about the capacity of the UPR to sustain itself. According to MSCHE, the budget approved by the FOMB does not comply with Standard VI and Requirement of Affiliation 11, both related with planning, resources, and institutional improvement; therefore, it is insufficient to sustain the university.
Depleting funding from the UPR is not a legitimate means to balance the budget of Puerto Rico. It is socially irresponsible and an inversion of priorities, as it channels the limited available resources to pay for a non-audited debt of 72 billion. The reduction of UPR budget is disproportionate as compared to budget reductions to other government institutions. For example, in 2019 UPR´s budget reduction reached 19.6%, while the average reduction for other government institutions was 6.5%.
- Enact policies geared towards the reinstatement of the funds reduced from the UPR´s proposed budget for the current year (2018-2019), as well as for the years ahead.
The consequences of insufficient funding are ominous. The availability of funds for grants, scholarships, and work-study experiences is crucial, since it affects the recruitment of new students in a context where the younger and most productive generations are leaving Puerto Rico, searching for educational and professional opportunities. Since 2006, migration from Puerto Rico to the continental US has increased in unprecedented numbers. On the other hand, steady financial funding guarantees strong academic programs, with qualified professors, and the necessary conditions to compete for research grants.
- Review FOMB’s policies that threaten UPR’s financial stability, undermine its essential services, and violate its academic autonomy.
The FOMB has not only intruded into budgetary considerations but also has violated UPR’s autonomy by indicating how the eleven UPR institutions should be organized. The proposed organization is based only on financial considerations and does not take into account academic or social aspects.
Based on the arguments stated above, we understand that the recovery of Puerto Rico is possible through a variety of well-thought, concerted efforts that respond to our best collective interests, including strengthening UPR, the public higher education system. Therefore, as advocates for the University of Puerto Rico, we count on your solidarity and request your immediate action.
Advocates for the University of Puerto Rico
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