On Thursday, October 24, a group of over 60 UPRM students gathered in the Chardón building’s plaza to discuss the University’s future and ways to save it from giant budget cuts and possible dismantling of 8 out of 11 campuses. The fiscal control board aims to cut the University of Puerto Rico’s budget by $70million, a reduction that would cause the Carolina, Bayamón, Humacao, Cayey, Ponce, Arecibo, Aguadilla, and Utuado campuses to close its doors. Students from these universities will be forced to either move to private institutions, conglomerate in the surviving but already overpopulated campuses of Mayagüez and Río Piedras, or quit their studies altogether. The group of students connected through multiple WhatsApp group chats, all filled to the app’s 257 member limit. These community-led chats, created between the 22nd and the 25th of October, served to spread information and ideas within its active members. Students from all departments presented ideas and informative points to encourage discussion and passive actions within campus.
“Reunión Estudiantil para salvar la UPR” (Student meeting to save the UPR)
Photo by Wendalyn Hernandez (@wendalynh4 on Twitter)
Banners were placed throughout the UPRM campus in the beginning of the week with messages denouncing the oppression faced by the university, students, and employees, as well as the lack of action to defend themselves.
Banner on the Chardón building with a call to fight.
Photo by Paola Egipciaco (@paoegipciaco on Instagram)
Another banner denouncing the mistreatment of employees and students. Photo by Paola Egipciaco (@paoegipciaco on Instagram)
Following the same spirit, several word art manifestations had already been held during this week. Along with the growing chat movement and powerful banners, artistic expressions were being placed on existing art pieces as a symbol of protest.
Artistic manifestation in La Serpentina sculpture, UPRM Campus. Photo by Adriana Mercado (@nanamacnana on Twitter)
Artistic manifestation in Humanities H sculpture, UPRM Campus. Photo by Adriana Mercado (@nanamacnana on Twitter)
However, the movement to defend the UPR system from the proposed budget cuts, and to improve the dwindling infrastructure, was not born in this moment. UPR students follow a tradition of standing up and fighting for their university, and for the right to accessible education through the island. The last exhibit of student manifestations was a two month long strike in the summer of 2017. Often referred to as “The Great Strike of ‘17”, it began the student body’s fight against a proposed $512 million dollar budget cut by the fiscal control board. The students are now beginning to protest the proposed $71 million dollar budget cut expected for next year. These complaints and protests have become increasingly common as public education in the island has been on the decline for years, with hundreds of public schools closing, and continuous budget cuts for the university.
UPRM’s infrastructure has been left unattended and decaying, and the campus lacks sufficient class spaces, professors, common areas, materials, and class sections; all while increasing costs to students and decreasing the yearly budget. Students in the island’s public university system fight for the right to an accessible, high quality, dignified education for themselves and for every child that will enter the UPR in the future. A change in the management of funds and university infrastructure is vital if the University of Puerto Rico is to stay alive.
Signs posted by students after their first group meeting in campus. Photo by Wendalyn Hernandez (@wendalynh4 on Twitter)
This reiteration of the student movement has birthed various activities, such as “cacerolazos” (pans and pots banging) at 8pm every night, a silent mass movement, and further artistic manifestations. More details and updates can be found in their social media, @luchaxlauni on Twitter and Facebook.