La presidenta interina de la UPR, Nivia Fernández. (Vanessa Serra Díaz)

The Tourism Company, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Department of Agriculture will be the first local governmental agencies to sign—as soon as next month—understanding agreements or contracts with the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), which is now involved in a process to generate new funds.

UPR interim President Nivia Fernández made the announcement yesterday, during a break in the middle of the third day in a series of meetings—ordained by executive order—between the institution’s leaders and various governmental agencies. Yesterday was the turn for the Department of Transportation and Public Works, Fortaleza’s Federal Issues advisor, the Office of Governmental Ethics, the Tourism Company, and others.

“Meetings will continue to be held, and we are learning about the needs and priorities of the various agencies. We have already met with 12 agency directors,” declared Fernández, in an aside with the press.

Fernández did not disclose further details about the specific agreements, although she described the Tourism Company as a dependency that is “quite aligned” with the UPR’s strategic plan. She mentioned that in earlier meetings held with the Departments of Agriculture and Education, they had shown interest in terms of training for their human resources.

Any agreements signed should generate recurrent funds.

“All the agencies have a need for training in their different specialties. A recurring subject has been technology and the need to strengthen their databases,” Fernández said.

“It has to be an opportunity for both parties. The government needs to receive high-quality service in a timely manner, and there should be accountability for the use of public funds. But the university needs to charge,” she added.

Fernández pointed out that once the third and last meeting is over, the institution she leads would focus on non-profit organizations and private enterprises, as part of the UPR’s effort to generate more revenues.

Fortaleza’s Federal Issues advisor, Frances Ortiz, attended yesterday’s meeting.

According to Fernández, there are plans for a meeting with the chancellors of the various campuses, since there are federal fund proposals that could be used in the UPR's favor.

“We need to respond quickly when federal proposal opportunities come up,” she stated.

Fiscal Challenge

The UPR has the responsibility of identifying new savings and revenues for a total of $450 million for 2021. The goal for next fiscal year is $200 million.

Where those numbers come from remains a mystery, and both Ricardo Rosselló Nevares’s administration and the Oversight Board (OB) have been passing the buck back and forth.

Fernández and the chairman of the UPR Governing Board, Carlos Pérez, must deliver the fiscal plan before March 31. Yesterday, a meeting scheduled between Fernández and OB Executive Director Ramón Ruiz Comas was cancelled because the UPR President deemed it necessary that she participate in the meetings with agencies.

At present, the UPR has identified new cutbacks and revenues that add up to $221 million, a number that does not include layoffs but does include $50 million in revenues generated through the understanding agreements that are currently being negotiated with the agencies. Fernández has warned that $450 million in cutbacks would threaten the stability of the centenarian institution.

“It’s an arbitrary amount in the sense that we haven’t been able to identify how it was established, whether that be $200 million, $300 million or $450 million,” Fernández concluded. 

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