“The economy of the 21st century must be based on learning. If you cut education you threaten your growth. If you don’t have well-educated people, you won’t be able to grow ”.
Joseph stiglitz, Nobel Prize in Economics, on Puerto Rico and its debt
The Department of Biology at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras (UPRRP) It is the largest academic unit in the UPR System, with an enrollment of 1,123 students. However, it only has 26 permanent teachers, when it reached 40 in 2000, said its director, Tugrul Giray, who since at least 2017 is concerned about the quality of teaching there. “The courses are going to disappear, and they are disappearing. For example, we had a human anatomy course that was offered in two parts, two semesters, and they had two laboratory sections, with dissection of animals, and so on. That course is no longer being offered, “said Giray in an interview with the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI).
By 2012, his department offered 34 courses at the undergraduate level, 11 more than the current academic offer.
Despite the cuts, the Department of Biology, with a budget of $ 2,789,804 for fiscal year 2021 produced over 100 scientific publications since 2017 and generated $ 76,741,046 in grants (grants) active since that same year, plus $ 95,896,276 that it has in progress, pending disbursement.
The contributions of that department are tangible and intangible. For example, the professor’s research Paul bayman that managed to control the borer beetle infestation contributed to we can have a cup of Puerto Rican coffee; professors of this and other departments of the Faculty of Natural Sciences they came together to warn about the damage that the spraying of the Naled insecticide had caused both the health of the population and the biodiversity of the country; and they also educated against the gas pipeline called Vía Verde with which the Fortuño administration intended to cross the center of the Island. In addition, a team of professors from the Department of Biology led by Dr. Riccardo pappa and subsidized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Puerto Rico Science Trust are characterizing the COVID-19 virus genome.
The Department of Biology is only a sample of the reality that is repeated to a greater or lesser extent in the other departments and faculties of the university campuses due to the reduction of funds for the public university, as a consequence of the austerity measures imposed by the Fiscal Control Board (JCF), which are reflected in the loss of teaching staff, the disappearance of courses and accreditations – as happened with the Neurosurgery Program of the Medical Sciences Campus -, and in the quality of education, reducing the country’s competitiveness and the possibilities of production in research and development that can contribute to the gross national product.
The accreditation of the doctorate in Social Work is also in danger, according to the president of the General Council of Students of the UPRRP, Fabiana Marini Martinez, in a letter to the congressman Raul Grijalva.
The fourth-year student in Biology and Human Rights concurs with Dr. Giray on the harmful effects of cuts in educational quality. “In the Department of Biology, which is where I come from, in virtual laboratories you learn, but you don’t go to practice. We are not going to be doing virtual laboratories all our lives. We are going to be doctors, we are going to be researchers, we are going to enter the field of public health, we have to have that practice, we have to have that knowledge and those skills that are translated into future skills and knowledge directly in the workplace, and not having that opportunity is extremely dangerous, “warned Marini Martínez.
The JCF reduced the General Fund allocation for the UPR from $ 911 million in 2017 to $ 466 million for fiscal year 2022, reviewed the Center for a New Economy (CNE). Furthermore, in the last budget certification it was established that, “any change in the budgetary redistribution required by the unit must request authorization from the Fiscal Supervision Board and the Governing Board, through the Central Budget Office”.
“How are you going to tell me that the Fiscal Control Board also wants to manage how money moves within a compound? You are hindering the work of the precincts more and more, with the cuts, with the dependence on federal funds, with those policies to control the internal economy ”, questioned Marini Martínez.
The UPR System has assumed over twenty cost and savings control measures to comply with the Board’s designs since 2017, which include a 5% reduction in the pay of teaching and non-teaching staff part-time and under contract. . The same percentage was reduced for bonus payments for administrative functions. Similarly, the salaries of trust personnel were reduced by 3% and payments for excess accumulated leave, including sick leave, were eliminated. Other reduced employment benefits include $ 95 less than the monthly contribution for the medical plan and the reduction of the Christmas bonus by almost 50%. The budget allocated for vacant positions was also eliminated. On the student side, they increased tuition costs and reduced or eliminated tuition waivers.
To this panorama is added the Debt Adjustment Plan that is before the consideration of the Judge Laura Taylor Swain, which would establish an annual contribution to the UPR of only $ 500 million per year until 2027.
For him Dr. José Agosto, professor and researcher at the Department of Biology in Río Piedras, the plan means a “check” to the UPR.
“In recent years we have been biting our hearts out. Now we are going to have the big cut, that is the check ”, declared Agosto.
Not only is it less teaching staff but, “for more than 10 years no administrative, teaching, or technical positions have been recruited. I am the coordinator of the genetics laboratories and there was a technique that was withdrawn about four years ago. They didn’t replace me with that person. They give us a person per contract of six months, maximum one year, the pay is very low and the requirements and responsibilities are very high. I have four technicians since that retirement. Before, we had more than two hundred transgenic lines of flies, which were used for teaching and research. They all got lost between the changes and changes ”, said Agosto.
Between 2015 and 2021, the department lost 62% of its contract technicians.
The panorama in the Department of Environmental Sciences of the UPRRP is similar to that of Biology. Professor Elvia Meléndez Ackerman explained to the CPI that this department “is the third largest in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, but it is running out of professors and has already run out of administrative staff.” Currently, it only has eight permanent teachers, of whom half can retire next year, for an enrollment of 389 students.
Even with all these limitations, Environmental researchers with permanent positions received funds from 39 grants that totaled more than $ 21 million between 2015 and 2020. They did not leave behind creative work, with 184 publications and 218 presentations of their work in and outside the country. . And recently, the Department received a assignment of $ 975,314 from the United States Department of Agriculture for the project “Puerto Rico Natural Resource Career Track: New Frontiers and New Collaborators”, which provides future scientists and science facility managers with knowledge in various disciplines that will allow them to identify new ways to manage natural resources in changing global settings.
The salaries of teachers and non-teachers of Environmental Sciences have plummeted since 2019. In the case of assistantships, the decline began since 2017, with an increase in 2021 that Meléndez Ackerman attributes to the funds granted by the emergency of the pandemic , “And today I was informed that the budget for materials for the Department is zero. This does not stop. It is impossible to graduate students in four years without professors who give the core courses regularly ”.
“Everyone in the university has a wear and tear and that is not productive for any of the parties, not even for the country. When we are at those gates demanding face-to-face courses it is because to train the country’s working class, and produce knowledge, if it is not going to become face-to-face, more with budget cuts ”this mission cannot be fulfilled, Marini Martínez stated about the strike that they keep in the UPRRP.
A recent analysis CNE associate researcher Raúl Santiago Bartolomei warned that “the cuts proposed by the Board will probably reduce the total production of research and development in Puerto Rico, make the archipelago less and less competitive, and doom any serious policy of industrial and economic development focused on promoting activities with high added value ”.
Marini Martínez understands that these cuts worsen the economic crisis in the country. “The university is an engine of socioeconomic development. It’s real, it’s not a pretty phrase. You are paying an illegal debt that should not correspond to the University of Puerto Rico, and you are seeking to pay it without having the center where you develop your economy and your society. Apart from being contradictory, it is something that does not make sense ”, he concluded.
For fiscal year 2022, projects a consolidated budget deficit of $ 41 million in the UPR to be covered with cash leftovers from previous years. It would not be the first time this has happened. During the past three fiscal years, $ 157,617 of the cash reserves were used for the operation, according to the latest budget memorandum.
In the Senate, an attempt was made to legislate adequate public financing for the UPR, “established by law as a fixed percentage of state revenues,” but the initiative was defeated by one vote.
If you direct any academic or research unit at the UPR, we invite you to share how you have managed to continue contributing with the training of future professionals despite the austerity by writing to [email protected]
This report is published in Metro Puerto Rico thanks to a collaborative agreement with the Investigative Journalism Center.
We want to give thanks to the author of this write-up for this remarkable material
The UPR can no longer with the push of austerity