The silence in the English-language press about the student strikes at the University of Puerto Rico stands in stark contrast to the roar produced by the growing number of students who have moved to shut down UPR to protest state disinvestment from public education.
The basic terms of the strike: As the state legislature has systematically diverted money from Puerto Rico’s only public university system, UPR has been left with a $100 million budget shortfall. In response, the Board of Trustees wants to make up that gap on the backs of the students, more than 60% of whom qualify for need-based aid. The Trustees want to force the students to choose between receiving federal Pell Grant aid and aid from the University based on merit or special skills. They call it double-dipping. The students call it class-based discrimination, a clever way to prevent poor and working class students from receiving honors and recognition along with the money necessary to make the $12,000-a-year education possible, and they aren’t having it.
The student strike started in April, and all 11 campuses have since been shut down. (The occupiers have been authorized to take these actions by their governing student bodies.) University officials and the police have responded violently, denying food, water, and medical care to protesters and beating and arresting family members and supporters who attempt to break the police blockade. These actions have attracted the attention of international human rights organizations who condemn the state response, and island union workers are mobilizing to join the students for a 24 hour national strike.
The stakes in the UPR struggle should be familiar to all of us: paying for state abandonment with money from poor and working class students, faculty, and staff, while maintaining bloated central administration budgets and wrenching reconfiguration of state priorities? This is an old song. What’s new is the scale of the UPR student response, something those of us in the mainland should be watching. We’ll likely need to take a lesson from these students in the hard days ahead.
For information, check out the following resources:
Democracy Now! report by Amy Goodman
Information Center on the Strike
Document Clearinghouse for Statements, Demands, etc.
Videos from the struggle