June 17, 2010
After more than four hours of discussion, student leaders from the National Bargaining Committee and the University of Puerto Rico administration signed and certified the final agreement which could soon bring an end to the 55-day strike at the UPR. The NBC leadership achieved the four fundamental claims the students had continuously insisted on. The students at all 11 campuses must still ratify the agreements. The issue of penalties for the striking had been the stalemate that impeded the agreement.
Wednesday, after a heated debate among members of the Board of Trustees, a consensus on language was finally reached.
INS learned that the intervention of trustee and UPR ex President Norman Maldonado, was key in convincing Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees Ygrí Rivera, to drop her consistent hard line regarding the application of penalties to the strikers. Maldonado had not previously intervened because he was off the island.
“Maldonado and Rivera had strong encounters; he favored the student’s language, while she maintained her position of not bargaining,” a source told INS.
The final agreement on the subject of penalties established that no university authority would be able to suspend or expel a striker through a summary process. It was agreed that no charges will be made against students and members of the academic community while exercising their legitimate rights, whether or not they participated in marches, meetings, protests or any other strike-related activity.
If the university administration were to apply a existing rule against a student, and he or she were found guilty through an administrative hearing, the university guarantees the appeals process will be carried out quickly. It also acknowledges that any delay will not affect the students academically.
The Board of Trustees acknowledged that if examiners were to be appointed to process cases against students, they must be ex-judges.
“The process is an extraordinary victory for students,” said NBC lawyer Frank Torres Viada. “The big achievement is that, regarding penalties, it is a process that guarantees fairness, impartiality and legality, far beyond the current dispositions of the UPR student rules.”
The Board of Trustees also agreed not to increase tuition through a special fee at the start of next semester. However, according to the agreement, if the trustees consider it necessary to set a fee, the amount will not exceed the amount representing the increase in Pell Grant for years 2009-2010 & 2010-2011, based on the grant given in 2008-2009.
“This must not be construed as acceptance by the NBC or the students,” the document says.
The agreements come after Judge José Negrón Fernández’s order Friday mandating a mediation process between the NBC and the Board of Trustees, permitting both parties to put their controversial issues on the bargaining table.
The mediation process in which ex-Judge Pedro López Oliver was appointed, started formally on Saturday, and arose from a legal claim submitted by attorney Torres Viada representing student leaders René Vargas and Verónica Guzmán.
The annulment of Certification 98 and the acceptance that none of the campuses will be privatized under the Public-Private Alliance project were two other achievements.
Starting today, students have five days to convene student meetings at every campus to ratify the agreements. Once the agreements are ratified, the gates of all campuses will open, and administrative and academic work will resume.
June 17, 2010
Students Gain After Strike in Puerto Rico
By DAMIEN CAVE
MIAMI Thousands of students at the University of Puerto Rico who went on strike two months ago to oppose severe budget cuts declared victory on Thursday after reaching an agreement with administrators.
As part of a deal brokered by a court-appointed mediator, students would end their strike one of the largest and longest such walkouts in Puerto Rican history in exchange for a number of concessions. Most notably, the university’s Board of Regents has agreed to cancel a special fee that would have effectively doubled the cost to attend the university’s 11 public campuses.
The deal also includes a promise that there will be no sanctions against strike organizers, who clashed at times with the police at the main Río Piedras campus outside San Juan.
The accord must still be approved by a general assembly of university students, which is expected Monday. Christopher Powers, a literature professor at the Mayagüez campus, said it was “nearly a complete victory for the students,” noting that they failed to get a promise that there would be no large tuition increase next year. Professor Powers said planned cuts later this year to the salaries and benefits of professors could set off another round of conflict.
“The fact that a student movement was able to force the administration and the government to sit down at the negotiating table and concede to nearly all their demands is a very important precedent,” Professor Powers said. “It will serve as an inspiration.”