Thanks to Luchas RUM and so many good folks from Puerto Rico in my Twitter stream, I’m starting to get an inkling of what’s going down at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). Last week, in response to the announcement of more than $100 million in budget cuts to UPR, the students went on strike at all 11 campuses. The strike is an attempt by the students to get the government to come to the table and negotiate those cuts, which will effectively make the Caribbean’s largest public university unaffordable for working class students. The cuts would potentially eliminate the tuition waivers that allows the neediest students to attend a system that is Puerto Rico’s cultural and intellectual epicenter. And according to Christopher Powers, a professor of Comparative Literature at UPR Mayaguez, the university remains one of the most important institutions that stands in resistance to the country’s continued colonial status. To quote Powers at length:
University of Puerto RIco has 64,000 students…and is the premier institution of higher learning in Puerto Rico, it is considered part of the cultural patrimony of the island, and has produced the island’s best and brightest. In the context of the colonial status of the island in which historically so much of Puerto Rico’s resources have been sold out to foreigners, the University of Puerto Rico is widely considered the last best resource the nation has to keep, so the attack on the integrity of the institution, the restrictions to working class students, and the fears of privatization of the university have sparked very wide public support.
Additionally, Giovanni Roberto, who is a student at the University of Puerto Rico and a spokesperson for the striking students, notes that the solidarity of people throughout Puerto Rico and he notes that “We have the right to do this, we are defending our right to a public university, and that is not a crime.” Amen to that. And I think this is something we here in the US have forgotten, it feels like we lost the war to the privatization of our universities and the chronic underfunding of aid and waivers in the 80s, so this fight seems long over to us. But it’s not over in Puerto Rico, and I really hope the students win this battle, because it is well worth fighting for. We are right now paying dearly for our refusal to fight the privatization and our cultural patrimony has been bought and sold as we can see with the UC system raising tuition 43%.
As the video below notes, there has been little or no discussion of this in the US and it is not surprising given how news of strikes in California barely made headlines on the East Coast. These are struggles most people in power would rather have people ignore so public support goes away and the slow, painful siege on thousands of students can continue as long as necessary. And while we talk about acces, freedom, and the possibility for a a new way of imagining education, the students at UPR have hit the streets to save some thos basic rights of access that are currently being threatened, and I have to say it is heartening to see they refuse what we have settled, and are willing to fight for more. In solidarity to all the good people of Puerto Rico, I hope you save your University systems from the conservative wolves that will bleed it of any of its value, and make it yet another reflection of a neoliberal world gone mad.
Below is a excellent video overview of the situation, the cultural context, and the student perspective. And the original post linking to this video can be found here.
Also, fine job by Democracy Now getting in touch with both Powers and Roberto to give such a powerful overview of what’s happening at UPR currently, this is not easy news to find here.