Thousands of students at the University of Puerto Rico who went on strike two months ago to oppose severe budget cuts declared a historic victory after reaching an agreement with administrators.
An accord brokered by a court-appointed mediator between the university’s Board of Regents and the student’s National Negotiating Committee (NNC), an unprecedented body representing all of the 11 campuses of the UPR system, was signed by both parties. The accord grants the central demands of the students represented by the NNC: the continuation of tuition waivers for meritorious students, the cancelation of a planned special fee that would have raised the cost of study by 50 percent, the rejection of initiatives to privatize the university and a commitment not to enact summary sanctions against strike participants. There will be no sanctions against strike organizers, who clashed at times with the police at the main Río Piedras campus.
The UPR student strike, one of the largest and longest in recent US and Puerto Rican history, has been marked by continuous threats of the use of police force to dislodge striking students from the encampments set up at university gates across the island since April.
The accord must still be approved by a general assembly of university students, which is expected Monday. Observers predict it will be easily ratified, giving way to the voluntary opening of the university on the part of the striking students and the recommencement of classes to finish the three weeks remaining to end the spring semester. 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.”
NNC student representative Alberto Rodríguez said that the accord “confirms the right to a quality public higher education accessible to all, which has been the historical patrimony of the University of Puerto Rico.”
For full articles, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/18/us/18students.html and http://upresunpais.com/component/content/article/39-noticias/133-estudiantes-ganan-la-huelga-logran-pactar-todos-sus-reclamos.html