***Please click HERE to sign an online petition in support of the UPR strikers (it only takes a second)***
As workers, students, and faculty of the University of California, San Diego, we hereby declare our solidarity with the workers, students, and faculty of the University of Puerto Rico. With this letter, we also declare our full support for their now 29 day-long strike.
By cutting more than 100 million dollars from its budget, by raising tuition while eliminating “tuition exemptions” for low-income students, by relying on non-tenured lecturers to do most of the instruction while paying them meager salaries, and by allowing class sizes to swell as the faculty to student ratio shrinks, Puerto Rico’s government and the UPR administration are making it harder for all Puerto Ricans to access a good and affordable university education.
Our experience here in the United States has taught us that measures like the ones that are being implemented in Puerto Rico typically result in the gradual destruction of public universities as institutions that are meant to serve the public. We have witnessed what happens to public universities when state governments strangle them economically forcing tuition costs to rise far above inflation rates. For example, in our very own University of California, student fees have gone up 300% over the last decade alone. A century ago, when our university system was created, students did not have to pay a cent to be educated. Our institution remained tuition free until the 1970s. Ever since then, our politicians and university administrators have continued to raise the cost of public higher education in California bit by bit.
Today, a public education in the United States is far less accessible to middle and working class Americans than it was five decades ago. Many of those who are able to pay for a public education do so only because the have put themselves deep into Student-loan debt, which as Prof. Jefferey J. Williams put it, has become our society’s contemporary form of “indentured servitude.” We are afraid that the same will happen to Puerto Rico’s public university and its students if the administrations of Gov. Fortuño and University President De la Torre have their way. Furthermore, just as in California where the first to be denied access to higher education are those who come from marginalized communities of color, the current crisis in Puerto Rico will further impede upward mobility for immigrants and Afro-Puerto Ricans who have historically been the most disenfranchised members of the island’s civil society.
Gov. Fortuño was wrong when he recently claimed that public higher education in Puerto Rico is a “privilege” and not a “right.” He appears to be unaware of the fact that according to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” Our elected leaders and administrators in California and in Puerto Rico are seemingly ignorant of the fact that public universities are integral to the functioning, development, and wellbeing of a democratic society and as such, must never be viewed as a drain on the public coffers. The less educated a citizenry is, the less empowered its people will be. Broad access to a university education ensures better training for a community’s work force and a larger presence of professionals, among whom are those who will be responsible for the physical and mental health of our communities, as well as those who will educate future generations.
Unfortunately, government disinvestment in public higher education is not a problem particular to Puerto Rico and California alone. It has become a global phenomenon and as such, it will only be stopped with global action and solidarity. As California’s public university workers, students, and faculty, made it clear on this year’s International Day of Action to Defend Public Education on March 4, we will not stand idly as our governments disinvest in our public universities. Inspired by the brave, principled actions of the UPR community, we will continue to oppose all educational policies that threaten broad accessibility to higher education. We will do so because we know that without it, the wealth and health gaps in this state, in this country, as well as in the US’ island colony of Puerto Rico will widen instead of closing.
We commend the workers, students, and faculty of the University of Puerto Rico for successfully inspiring and mobilizing so many people. What they have accomplished over the past month has empowered and educated not just people in Puerto Rico but communities across the world.
Finally, as member s of the global university community, we demand that Puerto Rico’s governor and the UPR administration abandon their tactics of intimidation by force and instead negotiate in good faith with the student strikers to arrange a just and reasonable end to the present standoff.
- Coalition for Educational Justice, University of California, San Diego
- Faculty Coalition, University of California, San Diego
- United Auto Workers Local 2865, University of California, San Diego
***Again, Please click HERE to sign an online petition in support of the UPR strikers (it only takes a second)***
Also, this story was featured on this week’s Democracy Now. You can view, listen, or download that DN! podcast HERE.