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Open Letter

SENT VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL

February 12, 2017

Jos B. Carrin III


Chair
Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico

Dear Mr. Carrin:

As a citizen of this country and a faculty member of the University of Puerto Rico
I feel compelled to share my thoughts with the Board. Any democratic citizen should be
outraged by PROMESA and see it as adding legal insult to the political injury that is our
colonial condition. Yet, as a social scientist, I know it is part of our responsibility to deal
frontally with the crude reality that is the Board.
The University of Puerto Rico is, without a doubt, the most important agent for
upward social mobility in Puerto Ricos twentieth and twentieth first century. For over a
century our institution has been cardinal to social, economic and cultural progress. As a
public institution of higher education our production of knowledge relies on science not
myth or ideology. Nonetheless, as scholars, we are very much aware of the powerful
effects both have on the public. Precisely because of their tantalizing effects, and the
severity of the islands situation, we should not be moved by prejudice, myth or
ideology. The unfettered pursuit of scientific knowledge is a pillar of Western
Civilization; and yet we are not free. Certainly, not every hindrance is an affront to our
freedom. Academic accreditation may sometimes feel like a fetter; but we carry it gladly
since we know its horizon is rigor. Everyone knows that rigorosity is a virtue in the
pursuit of knowledge. The worst and most inacceptable obstacle to academic freedom
and administrative excellence has been the intromission of partisan politics in our
affairs. For the University to act swiftly in response to the pending doom everyone is
forecasting, this unwarranted intromission must come to an end.
If we are going to be swift in our response, we must also be thorough in our
method. This is what a scientific community does best. Our struggles against external
obstacles are not petty struggles for power, even when there is some of this when it
comes to the executive posts. The faculty struggle against politicians because they
hinder the production of knowledge; we resist their approaches because they
asphyxiate creativity; we detest partisan agendas because they thrive on clientelism.
Partisan attacks to the University go against the heart of our mission. They can
constitute a lethal blow to an already bruised academic body. We understand that
financial constraints can undermine our mission. But there are other equally powerful
forces that can destroy a Universitys generative potential: a weakened faculty body not

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only puts the University at risk, it ensures mid and long term irrelevance for social and
economic growth.
In times of crisis institutions bleed and our academic body is bleeding. The worst
prescription for a bleeding body is an anticoagulant. Professors are either being
poached or they are seeking better paid positions. During the last couple of years
several senior professors have taken tenured posts at universities in the US. The UPR
has to stay competitive to retain and attract talented scholars and researchers.
Impoverishing workers is not a rational solution. Serious administrative changes have to
be made. Consolidations are necessary and redundancy must be address. However,
these measures have to be done rationally and justifiably. Bureaucracy has to serve the
Universitys mission, not stand as an obstacle to it. There is a general fallacy regarding
university salaries. When comparing our compensation to a recent survey of public
university salaries by the American Association of University Professors we find UPR
salaries well bellow the median. This situation worsens in STEM disciplines and
professional schools. Non-teaching jobs face a bleaker picture. A recent employment
offer from our Medical Sciences Campus seeks an accountant with an MBA offering
$1630 monthly. This is less than twenty thousand dollars a year; 43% less than
Mississippis 2014 Per Capita Personal Income as reported by the federal Bureau of
Economic Analysis. Thus, it is no wonder our professional class is flying-off the Island.
The University can economize without hurting academic freedom or employees.
Most employees are already underpaid hence benefit cuts will prove counterproductive.
The University can do both, grow as an institution and offer our services effectively. In
order to do this, professors have to be replaced at least on an equivalent rate as they
retire, and still economize around 29% in the process. Some of these savings have to
be diverted to critical areas, not just cut out of the budget.
The University of Puerto Rico graduates cultured individuals, versatile
professionals, and well-rounded alumni. They know Virgil and Shakespeare, Aeschylus
and Homer at the same time that search for cures to our illnesses, build our houses and
teach our children. This is what a university education must do. Puerto Rico not only
needs jobs, but well-paid ones. Otherwise we end up distributing misery instead of
wealth. Social mobility is not possible with indecent salaries. There are no simple
solutions to complex problems. A single prescription of cuts does not help the situation;
it only aggravates it. Cuts can be made in wasteful areas, but spending is required for
institutional growth. These are the areas that produce the professional class we need:
doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, poets, writers, artists, scientists, and philosophers
among others. This is essential to the Universitys mission. The Boards own recent hire
of the prestigious law firm ONeill & Borges is evidence of our excellence. Youll find that
71% of the 74 members of their legal team studied in Puerto Rico. More importantly,
88% hold their graduate degree from our School of Law while 77% are undergraduate
alumni of the University of Puerto Rico system. The same can be said of Puerto Ricos
best schools, hospitals and industries. Our institution not only graduates the most, we

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also graduate the best. Because higher education is integral to social mobility, access
must remain affordable.
In order to enact the changes we need to fully accomplish our mission, autonomy
is fundamental. We need leaders selected by our own community. Leadership is not
about giving the public want they want. That is the role of populist marketing and
behavioral economics. Leadership is about having the capacity to set a reasoned
course based on commonality of purpose. However, we are a complex and differing
community and cannot easily speak with a single voice. Dissent is a healthy and
essential result the free pursuit of knowledge in a democratic society. Yet, not every
dissent can stand scrutiny. While it is unfortunate to read in our press academics writing
with disdain about those who protest, social antagonism is a positive indicator of a
democratic society. Its censorship is a sign of political decline, not strength. It is pitiful
when some quench their thirst for posts pontificating about autonomy by decimating the
very meaning of the word. The search for power should not come at the expense of
truth. But indignation is seldom politically effective; it only helps the moralist feel better
about himself. We have no reason to be intellectually pessimistic because we have the
human talent to find intelligent solutions. Our challenge is to muster the will to enact
them and your duty to not stand in our way. That is what autonomy is about.

Cordially,

Alex Betancourt
Professor and Chair
Department of Political Science
University of Puerto Rico

cc: Dr. Celeste Freytes, Interim President


University of Puerto Rico