Facing the demands of the Oversight Board to cut 30% of the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) budget, which is equivalent to $300 million, the administration of the educational institution prepared a first draft of possible adjustments.
The document that must be presented to the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (FAFAA) before February 15th, still does not reach the imposed amount.
For Celeste Freytes, the acting president, the situation is “devastating”. In a meeting held on Saturday with the University Board—the organism which is most representative of the University—, all cards were brought to the table and the possibilities were discussed.
“The $150-million exercise was very difficult, and we still haven't even begun to address the consequences. We are still asking how they arrived at $300 million. We did a precautionary measures exercise, we’ve saved more than $100 million in the last three years, but continuing to cut will leave the professors and students very affected,” the President asserted.
The adjustments draft for internal use leaked during the weekend through social media. It includes $69.6 million in savings by way of payroll and employer contributions. Among the proposals are a $5.5-million reduction in Christmas bonuses, $7 million in compensations for additional courses, $1.5 million in bonuses for holding management positions, and $18 million by way of the healthcare and pharmacy plan for UPR employees.
Some of the savings are already underway, which has resulted in more than $100 million in savings for the University, Freytes held. Freezing teaching positions, pay increases for the faculty, and the reduction in compensations and bonuses, have already emerged.
As far as operational expenses, they predict $35.6 million in savings. The adjustments include eliminating $13 million meant for continuous improvements, a $2.8-million reduction in the purchase of academic, administrative, and operational materials, $834 thousand in consignments assigned for travel, $350 thousand in graduate study grants, and $500 thousand in security and surveillance contracts.
It also considers savings of $16.1 million in the disbursement of the public debt. Therefore, the payment to the Government Development Bank is adjusted, which reduces the debt by 25%.
However, to reach the $150 million required in the first fiscal year, $28.6 million in adjustments would still have to be identified. A 31.3% increase in income is considered in the draft, which would correspond to an increase in tuition, the revision of exemptions for students, and a review of service charges.
But, for Freytes, they are focusing on other ways of strengthening and cutting. “For the tuition to have an effect, the increase would have to be very high. Seventy percent of our students receive the Pell Grant; they are of an economic level that requires support for their studies,” she commented.
In no way does the draft include closing any of the University campuses, which has been at the center of the discussion in times of economic hardship. The acting President defended keeping the campuses due to the “level of diversity” they contribute. However, she anticipated that the administration has its eye set on an administrative restructuring of the campuses, which would allow them to consolidate administrative posts from different units and eliminate bureaucracy.
A day away from the meeting in Central Administration, the University Board student caucus insisted that the cutbacks start with that restructuring, triggering efficiency and reducing operational costs and confidential employee posts.
Both the administration as well as the students agreed on the need for the UPR to secure revenues by offering professional services to the Government and monetizing their own projects.
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