UPR professors denounce diversion of funds to cover fiscal deficits

Manuel Guillama Capella (Metro PR) writes that, “according to professors from the Institute of Caribbean Studies, the Central Administration is redirecting funds from self-sufficient units for other purposes.”

A group of professors from the Institute of Caribbean Studies [ICS / IEC in Spanish] at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras (UPR-RP), denounced that the university’s Central Administration has chosen to freeze the funds generated by self-sufficient units on each campus to cover budget deficiencies in other areas of the institution.

Sociologists Emilio Pantojas García and Jorge Giovannetti Torres, as well as writer and researcher Eduardo Lalo, argued that the scope of the “confiscation” of funds from units such as the IEC, with the aim of redirecting it to the general fund of the UPR, amounts to $34.5 million, according to an analysis of the budget certified by the Institution’s Governing Board for fiscal year 2021-2022.

Specifically, the academics point to an entry for that amount included on page 13 of Certification 130 2020-2021 of the Governing Board, included in the line of “Non-Recurring Funds-Cash.”

“The confiscation or hold—which is the word used by the institution—of revolving accounts is an action that was not notified beforehand. Revolving accounts are accounts that receive their own income, income that the entity generates and uses and which may span fiscal years. In the case of the Instituto del Caribe, one of the most important sources of our revolving account is the journal Caribbean Studies” explained Pantojas García, who serves as director of the IEC.

On September 2, Pantojas García sent an email to the interim president of the UPR, Mayra Olavarría Cruz, where he raised the alert about the effect of the freeze on the work carried out by the IEC, whose revolving fund rose to $136,403.18.

In the letter, Pantojas García, specified that the main effects of the lack of funds would be to stop the payment of layout and printing of Caribbean Studies, to complicate the possibility of raising external funds through federal donations, to put at risk the process of receiving donations from private companies, and to “derail the self-sufficiency process that began five years ago.”

In the case of the IEC, Pantojas García explained that subscriptions to the journal generate between $25,000 and $29,000 annually for the program, being one of its main sources of income, along with donations from entities that promote academic research, such as the heirs of renowned anthropologist Sidney W. Mintz and sociologists Gordon K. Lewis and Sybil Farrell-Lewis.

Two weeks ago, the Lewis couple’s son, David E. Lewis, wrote a letter to Olavarría Cruz and the chancellor of the Río Piedras Campus, Luis Ferrao Delgado, in which he stated “our concern about the freezing of the revolving accounts of the Institute and, therefore, of the project of self-sustainability that involves the dedication of the Institute to the memory of our parents.”

“The university cannot use donor funds for areas other than the those for which they were originally donated. And that is what the president of the UPR and the Governing Board are doing,” said Pantojas García, along with his colleagues, in an interview with Metro.

At the end of this edition, the Central Administration of the UPR had not responded to a series of questions submitted by this news source, including the reasons why the institution had resorted to this practice of diversion of funds, the legal and regulatory bases for such actions, the alternatives that would be offered to the different self-sustaining units, or whether there is an intention to restore the money and the units’ access to their revolving accounts. Metro also requested a list of self-sustaining units on each campus.

The IEC academics indicated that, in the Río Piedras Campus alone, there are dozens of these units, including the Museum of History, Anthropology and Art; the Center for Social Research; the journal Sargasso; the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research; the Division of Continuing Education and Professional Studies; and the High School, known as UHS.

In Lalo’s case, in addition to his work as a professor and researcher at the IEC, he is the father of a UHS student. “As a professor, and because of my own lived experience, I know that the revolving account of the UHS has also been seized. In other words, I’m going to be literally forced to pay the school, because if I don’t, they won’t give [my child] a transcript of credits or they won’t graduate. I have to give them that money, just like all the parents of all the students of those laboratory schools, of the Elementary School, and the schools are not going to give any services, because the monies are going to a general government fund that is in deficit,” said the renowned novelist.

[. . .] For Pantojas García, the university administration sends a contradictory and wrong message by “seizing” the funds of the units, at the same time as it publicly insists that to mitigate the dramatic cuts ordered by the Fiscal Control Board—about $500 million in four years—the institution needs to find new and creative ways to generate money. “The university has gone from economic bankruptcy to administrative and intellectual bankruptcy, because using funds used by prestigious academic units to cover a deficit that is going to go down a black hole, that is not even going to have a positive impact, is an intellectual bankruptcy; it is to not understand what the university is,” the academic pointed out.

Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For full article (in Spanish), see https://www.metro.pr/pr/noticias/2021/10/04/academicos-denuncian-desvio-fondos-cubrir-deficits-fiscales-la-upr.html

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