Monday, April 26, 2010

Strike at the Univ. of Puerto Rico

The island's most important institute of higher education, the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), has been shut down by students since last Wednesday. Unfortunately, the strike has taken an ugly turn as numerous confrontations between students and the police took place. What was initially a 48-hour strike has now turned into an indefinite one at the public university. With eleven campuses throughout the island, the largest and most prestigious being in Rio Piedras, an estimated 64,511 students are enrolled at the UPR. Tuition is currently at a mere $51.00 per credit for undergraduate students. Tuition increases, a reportedly $75 to $100 million in budget cuts, and the elimination or revision of certain academic exemptions and requirements, are not the only points of contention.

According to members of the Action Committee of Students of Law (Comité de Acción de Estudiantes de Derecho) at UPR-Rio Piedras, students want to prevent the destruction of the island's most important center of learning. Moreover, they also want to guarantee the right for all to a public education. Nevertheless, this group does not represent the sentiment of the entire student population. An important note to consider is the number of those who approved this strike. At the UPR-Rio Piedras campus, with approximately 19,000 students, 763 students voted in favor and 261 voted against the shut-down. This is to say 4% of the entire student body officially support the strike.

The increasing cost of a public college education is not an isolated trend pertaining only to the island of Puerto Rico. On the mainland U.S, the average tuition increase at a 4-yr. public college rose 6.5% in 2009 compared to the 2008 academic year. This is no surprise as many states have had to adopt more austere budget packages. In addition to local funding from the Puerto Rican government, UPR does also receive funding from the U.S federal government in the form of grants for scientific research, amongst others. Students are also eligible for certain types of federal financial aid programs. Currently, talks between the university President and student leaders have stalled. Both sides have yet to agree on the rules for mediation.

Update (5/20/10): Clashes between students (and parents) and police officers have grown more violent and intense as the strike continues. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much progress made in the negotiation between student leaders and the university's administration. Here's a link to the coverage of the strike from Democracy Now.

Image above obtained from El Nuevo Día,

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth Day 2010

I've decided to stop using "global warming," instead I'll follow Thomas L. Friedman's advice and use the term "global weirding." Last month, Puerto Rico registered both a record low and high in temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, the average temperature this past March was 80.7º F. This is more characteristic for temperatures in May. On the other hand, we also had a few days of relatively cooler temperatures, in the low 60ºsF in the San Juan area, brought on by a cold front. This extreme weather phenomenon is nothing out of the extraordinary. In many parts of the world, especially in some parts of the U.S and Europe, this past winter was extremely rough. Many experienced record snowfalls and low temperatures. This is no reason to doubt the existence of global warming though. As stated in a fairly recent article published in the Economist, the fact in which there is a lack of agreement amongst environmental scientists should not be cause for inaction.

Puerto Rico is slowly becoming more conscientious of climate change and trying to adopt renewable energy resources. The local paper published an article (in Spanish), "En pañales la conciencia verde en Puerto Rico" (which literally translates to: "In Diapers Green Conscience in Puerto Rico") with some worrying statistics. Electricity on the island, which has seven power generating plants, is still primarily produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Currently, the recycling rate is less than 10%. In the U.S, it's over 30% and in some parts of Europe, it's at around 60%. To my astonishment, Puerto Rico has no existing recycling plant for solid waste. On average, people on the island generate nearly five pounds of garbage on a daily basis, this makes Puerto Rico the world's leader in generating the most garbage, in terms of population density and square mileage. Needless to say, the island faces a very long list of challenges and must act quicker.

Earth Day will be celebrated just two days from today, on April 22nd. One of the most important things which we can all do, as citizens of this world, is to do our part in taking care of Mother Earth. For example, recycling and using less plastic bags is one way to reduce waste and lessen carbon emissions. I often bring a canvas bag with me to carry my groceries, something which I would love to see everyone here on the island do. Hanging your clothes, weather permitting, is also a fantastic way to lessen your electricity bill. If we can all contribute in the usage of less energy and water, we'll be making small but crucial steps in helping alleviate the environmental damage we've caused.