Monday, December 13, 2010

What will become of the University?

En español

The future of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) has never seemed so uncertain. Today, on Tuesday, December 14, 2010, starts the second student strike in a year. This is in spite of the fact that everyone is aware that a strike is not the best thing for the University right now. But, after all is said and done, what other way do the students have to pressure the University administration? On more than one occasion, the administration has made crystal clear that they have no intentions whatsoever to either engage in dialogue with the students or to negotiate. They stubbornly insist in maintaining their position on the $800 quota. The Island's Supreme Court has just made a decision that regulates all protests in the University. The governor has said that he will create a committee of advisers to amend the law of the University, robbing it of its autonomy from government intervention. And, in recent days, the Río Piedras campus has been turned into a police state.

Are these conditions that lead to free thinking, to the creation of a safe environment where every idea and opinion is welcome? Is the presence of armed guards in the hallways of the University supposed to make one feel safe? Is the example offered by the UPR President, the President of the Board of Trustees, the Río Piedras Provost, and other administrators an example of a university education, of openness to dialogue, of love for the University, or of a culture of peace?

Absolutely not.

I confess that I seriously doubt that the strike is the way to go right now. But I also understand that in order to achieve change, it is necessary that those who are in power become a little bit uncomfortable. Otherwise, nothing will happen, if history is any guide. From the French Revolution to the civil rights struggles of the sixties, there has never been significant social change without conflict and without making those who are in power uncomfortable. It is because of this that the administration's insistence that any protest occur within specially designated areas and that the University remain functioning as in a normal day should be looked upon with deep suspicion. Even more so when the Provost of Río Piedras, Ana Guadalupe, has decreed that during an entire month all meetings, protests, marches, festivals, pickets, and other activities are prohibited.

To be sure, the fact that it is necessary to alter the normal order of things in order to make the widespread anger felt where it needs to be felt does not mean that anybody's rights to differ should be denied, as the government and the UPR administration have made it seem. But it cannot be expected that, given the circumstances, the day continue normally as if nothing was happening. This creates the illusion that nothing is happening and that any protester is protesting for no reason.

I sincerely hope we don't see a rerun of the spilling of blood that has been seen at UPR during the student protests of the second half of the twentieth century. But sadly, after today, anything could happen.

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