It's been a rough week for the University of Puerto Rico.
To begin with, the Student Center of the Río Piedras campus was vandalized by a group of people whose faces were covered to hide their identities. (I should say that in general, there has been overwhelming disapproval towards the actions of those who unnecessarily damaged the Center.) The next day, several students who were distributing leaflets on campus and who had committed no crime were arrested. That very same day the riot squads returned to the campus, again bringing with them violent confrontations between students and police. The ban on all large activities on campus decreed by the provost of Río Piedras, Ana Guadalupe, was extended for another thirty days, thanks to the Board of Trustees. There are strong rumors that there will be a change in the University's presidency. Governor Luis Fortuño wrote a column in El Nuevo Día saying that he will create a committee that will advise him on how to restructure the University "desde sus cimientos" ["from its foundations"], if necessary. Various programs, among them Hispanic Studies, will be put "on pause" next academic year. And as if all this wasn't enough, the University has started to collect the draconian $800 fiscal stabilization fee and no one knows how or when the special grants that were created to help students pay it will be available.
And this is only the first week of class this year.
All these events help give an idea of the overwhelming sense of impotence that has overcome the University community in the face of the unjustness of its situation. To make matters worse, students are forced to pay the $800 fee with their own money, doing it who knows how, because the promised financial aid won't be available for the moment. If they do not pay at least the minimum payment now, they will not be able to continue studies this semester.
This is a heavy blow to the morale of the student movement because right now, there is no other alternative left to them. However, it is also because of this that I think that this year we will truly see what the students' imagination and persistence are capable of. During this crisis there has been no shortage of brilliant and innovative ideas. I think we can expect more of that, this time around applied to the problem of pressure mechanisms since, evidently, new ways of protesting are needed that can give better results.
Nevertheless, 2011 promises to bring more of the bitter medicine that has been shoved down the University's throat in massive overdoses. Thus, I conclude this depressing blogpost with the following suggestion: if the students must pay the fee, they should pay with coins or with bills of really low denominations as a sign of protest. If the University administration is that eager to collect the fee, then they shouldn't mind counting pennies or dollar bills.
If more of that bitter medicine has to be taken, then at least it shouldn't be taken lying down. As the song says: "For a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down..."