Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Smith College’s Jandon Center reaches out to University of Puerto Rico professors

(Caroline OConnor/ Daily Collegian)

Wednesday afternoon, members of Smith College’s Jandon Center for Community Engagement held a video call with Professor Jose Rául Rívera Caballero, President of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors, and his associates on how to aid the University of Puerto Rico. According to a handout given out at the beginning of the event, the university faces an annual $300 million budget reduction from the Federal Fiscal Control Board.

According to a January 18 report from the association that was given out during the event, the board established under what conditions they would approve the Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló’s fiscal plan. However, under the board’s conditions, the University of Puerto Rico would face a budget reduction, an increase in tuition, reduced faculty, non-faculty payroll and a cut in operating and maintenance costs.

During the video call, Elvis Méndez , assistant director of the Jandon Center, spoke to Professor Caballero on his thoughts about the financial situation the University of Puerto Rico is currently facing.

As translated by one of his colleagues, Caballero said, “It’s a great challenge that we would love to certainly take on. What’s being done here at the University of Puerto Rico has already been done to public universities across the United States. We would very much like to link our struggles in the United States very concretely with professor associations in the U.S. that we’ve shared experiences with.”

In response to this, Méndez said that he has spoken to his colleagues at the Jandon Center to connect them with the Massachusetts Society of Professors and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. On Monday, he spoke with the president and lead organizer of the Boston Teachers Union.

Another issue that Caballero brought up was the decline in enrollment due to the rising costs of tuition from the Federal Fiscal Control Board’s budget cuts. He says he is seeing more students leave, which will only encourage the board to increase their budget cuts.

Andrea Hutter, an Ada Comstock Scholar at Smith College, told the story of how the Association of American Colleges and Universities President bailed out three universities in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit by taking in their students at other schools and giving them access to an education.

To Caballero, this was not an idea that was plausible for the University of Puerto Rico. Unlike schools in the United States, the University of Puerto Rico cannot afford to be closed. Caballero stressed the importance of students staying at his university in order for it to function.

He recalled last week how a journalist from the Chronicle of Higher Education came to his school to report on their financial situation. When the journalist asked a class of 20 students who would like to go to the United States to study, the majority of them declined, saying, “Puerto Rico needs us.”

“The professors, the students they really have a commitment that goes beyond a mere salary. We really love our country and our university, and we know it can be really important for us to have a better country,” said Caballero.

In addition to fighting for the University of Puerto Rico, the Jandon Center is also working to address the issue of families in need who’ve arrived from Puerto Rico and are facing food and housing difficulties.

According to Jose Claudio, chief operating officer of the New North City Council in Springfield, roughly 400 public school students need clothes such as coats, boots, jackets and uniforms. The council has started a holiday food and clothes drive for Puerto Rican families in need in the Springfield area.

Another key issue that was addressed in the meeting regard families coming into Springfield from Puerto Rico and their adjustment to the public school system.

“Some of the students coming into the high school, sometimes in their final year of college are being faced with an issue of language barriers and whatnot,” said Méndez.

Méndez plans by next week to have a table set up in the Smith College Campus Center with a donation bin that addresses the needs for these families coming from Puerto Rico.

Another suggestion that came up was sending students from the Five College area to assist at the University of Puerto Rico.

“There is interest amongst the Five College presidents to send a group. If it’s helpful to send a supportive group of students to an alternative spring break for a week or ten days of service,” said Denys Candy, director of the Jandon Center.

Overall, Caballero and his peers seemed to be supportive of the idea. At the end of the meeting, Méndez expressed his support from his peers and the professors from the University of Puerto Rico.

Alvin Buyinza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @abuyinza_news.

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