Peaceful disagreement and dialogue are as welcome at the University of Puerto Rico as they are at any public institution in the rest of the United States. However, a small minority of student protestors at one of UPR's 11 campuses continues to conduct themselves with violence, attacking students, teachers and now the University Chancellor.
Through their actions, this small group is creating an environment where members of the university community are afraid to speak out and fulfill their responsibilities as students and professors. They are also jeopardizing the future for all who rely on the public university system.
The violent student attack on UPR Chancellor Dr. Ana Guadalupe on Monday should be a wake-up call to all who care about the future of the university. According to a Caribbean Business news story account, “…The violent incident unfolded as students protesting new $800 annual fees barged into a meeting Guadalupe was participating in.... As she was being led out by security personnel, Guadalupe, Río Piedras campus security chief Jorge Rodríguez and other guards were attacked."
"Rodríguez was beaten and suffered a fractured nose. Guadalupe was targeted by bottle-throwing protesters, was doused with liquids, struck and had her hair pulled as she was escorted to a security vehicle to be driven to safety," the story continued. "Protesters then smashed out the back and passenger-side windows of the vehicle and at least one woman jumped on the hood of the car before a bloodied Guadalupe was driven to safety.”
This behavior isn’t anyone’s idea of peaceful protest, and this is not an isolated incident.
These students have been violent from the beginning and their tactics continue to escalate. You can be sure this type of violence and intimidation would not be tolerated on any other campus in the country, and we cannot allow it to continue here.
These students hold up a new $400 per semester university fee as their reason for resorting to violence.
Let’s look at the facts of the issue. The fee was instituted by the university administration, which is struggling with fiscal challenges that are comparable to many other universities throughout the United States. It is important to note that even with this fee, the UPR system is the most affordable public institution of higher education anywhere under the American flag, with tuition and fees averaging less than $1,000 per semester.
In order to help students pay the new fee, the Government of Puerto Rico enacted a new law providing a $30 million scholarship fund to help students in need.
In addition, UPR students are eligible to receive federal Pell Grants, with eligible students receiving up to $5,500 annually, two and a half times average tuition and fees, an expanded Work-Study program, among other forms of financial aid.
Despite the violence of a few, over 90 percent of students have paid their tuition and fees and are attending classes. It’s time for the protestors, many of whom claim to be members of socialist youth organizations, to renounce Cold War-type violent tactics reminiscent of the 1960's and let the 90 percent-plus majority of students and professors to study and work in peace.
They must let the University of Puerto Rico remain a vibrant public university system that offers the best in academic excellence for generations to come at a lower cost than any other state university in the nation.
Kenneth McClintock is the Lieutenant Governor of Puerto Rico.