Students Take Over the University of Puerto Rico

I received an email three days ago from the mother of one of our Puerto Rican beneficiaries. It included a picture of her reaching out to touch her son through the cast iron fence that surrounds the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, campus. He has been an RFC beneficiary since the age of two, and now is one of the students on strike and occupying the campus.

The strike started as a 48-hour warning action by hundreds of students protesting the repeal of “Certification 98.” This repeal cut tuition support for many needy students and removed the guarantee that there would be no tuition increases or privatization of services. The students had formed a negotiating committee and presented proposals to impose a 1% corporate income tax on all non-Puerto Rican based companies to close the Commonwealth’s budgetary shortfall. They pointed to corporate profits totaling 38 billion dollars last year. A 1% tax would generate 380 million dollars in additional revenue, solving the entire education budget deficit.

The Interim Chancellor refused to negotiate. At the end of the first day of the 48-hour action she sent campus security agents to close the university gates to prevent the students from reentering the campus the next morning. But the students stayed on campus overnight, and locked the gates from within. In response, the Chancellor closed the university, and with the support of the Governor, sent riot police to the campus perimeter.

The Chancellor sought a court injunction authorizing the police to evict the students. But the students presented their own claims to the judge, and he rendered no immediate decision. Support for the students from organized labor and various celebrities grew daily. One student reported: “At first we thought we would starve to death, but that was not so. So many people have brought us food.”

Yesterday, an RFC Board member called (his niece is also one of the student occupiers) to tell me that the Judge had ruled that the University’s closure was illegal. The Judge found that the closure violated the student’s free speech rights and that the police could not evict the students.

Classes are being conducted on campus as the strike enters its second week. The press reports that the campus is spotless and peaceful, but the administrators remain locked out. The students have outsmarted the administration at every turn. Perhaps the university should be run entirely by the students and faculty. They could save the university a lot of money by doing away with the administration altogether.

For more information (in Spanish) see: www.indymediapr.org

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