Oberlin Stands in Solidarity with University of Puerto Rico

To the Editors:

As students, faculty, staff and alumni of Oberlin College, we are writing to voice our support and solidarity with the striking students at the University of Puerto Rico and to express our grave concern with the proposed financial cuts to the UPR, the island’s only public university system, as well as the economic austerity measures imposed by the U.S.-appointed Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, created by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act.

The cuts to the UPR, which could be up to $512 million out of the university’s $833 million in public funds (a 62 percent cut), are part of a larger trend of austerity measures imposed by the FOMB that include a $4.25 minimum wage for people under 25, pension cuts for retired public employees, cuts to funding for Medicare and Medicaid for the island’s aging population and the closure of over one third of public schools in Puerto Rico since 2015. These austerity measures work under the guise of addressing Puerto Rico’s debt crisis but in fact prioritize only the interests of financial institutions that made a business out of predatory lending on the island. This practice is so widespread on the island that almost half of the debt owed by Puerto Rico is actually interest, not actual money that Puerto Rico borrowed.

UPR students have begun an indefinite strike in protest of the proposed budget cuts to the university, as well as increasing tuition and other financial changes proposed by the FOMB. On April 18, the UPR campus at Río Piedras received a letter from the U.S. Department of Education stating that, due to the strikes, the university lost eligibility for Title IV federal financial aid, which includes Pell grants, federal student loans and work-study programs. In addition to the effects this has on current students, incoming students will not be able to submit a FAFSA to the university. Especially given that [the Department of Education’s] letter is directed to the students of the Río Piedras campus, it is clear that these actions are strategically targeting an institution that has long been a focal point for and home to left-wing and anti-colonial thought and activism.

While there are certainly budget cuts that need to be made, we are deeply concerned about who and what institutions these cuts are targeting. These cuts, and the burden necessary to get Puerto Rico out of this crisis, are being placed on working-class and poor Puerto Ricans, rather than the banks and corporations that created and exacerbated this debt in the first place.

Although the scale and context of the cuts to UPR are clearly very different from the cuts facing Oberlin College, we feel it is important to note the similarity present: The budget cuts in both places primarily affect students, faculty and staff who have had little say in what money has been used for and what is being defunded. Outside interests are being prioritized at the significant expense of actual spending on education. A significant example at Oberlin is the newly renovated and rebuilt Hotel at Oberlin, a financial investment that was not made for us but becomes our financial responsibility through rising tuition, room and board costs and budget cuts across the board.

We would like to align ourselves with the demands presented by the student movement at the University of Puerto Rico and the more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans who have petitioned to reactivate the independent Debt Audit Commission:

  1. An independent audit of the debt, by reactivating the state-legislated non-partisan commission, reinstating its members and allocating funding.
  2. That the governor declares no cuts for the university or in its offerings to service the debt.
  3. The approval of university reform promulgated by the university community.
  4. That the university president declares students participating in the strike will not be sanctioned.

Solidaridad y Resistencia,

Co-written by:
– Rita Perez-Padilla
– Guillermo (Mobey) Irizarry Lambright
– Andrés González

Endorsed by:
– La Alianza Latinx
– Zami
– Sexual Information Center
– Jewish Voices for Peace
– Third World Cooperative
– Students Building Community Power
– Oberlin May Day Coalition
– Showing Up For Racial Justice Oberlin
– Oberlin Students in Solidarity with Guatemala
– Oberlin College Women in Math and Computer Science
– African Students Association
– Oberlin College Drag Ball
– Student Labor Action Coalition
– Immigration Action Now!
– Students for Energy Justice
– Oberlin Experimental College
– Asian American Alliance
– Oberlin College Democrats
– ArtSpeaks Engagement Initiative
– Oberlin College Gear Co-op
– Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine
– Oberlin Conservatory Council of Students

This statement has received 270 signatures so far. View an updated list of endorsements at: https://docs.google.com/a/oberlinreview.org/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfaInRuAuWEOUHjcvJ50gYLwdFXM7UehHU6mbggWTou2vOOlw/viewform