Monday, May 31, 2010

Triumph and Trouble Strikes in Tropical Paradise

Oasis News: Daughter graduates from high school, University of Puerto Rico students continue STRIKE, University professors tricked!

What's going on in my part of this tropical paradise? We have had the most wonderful few days preparing and celebrating Miss A's graduation. (Can you find her in the crowd?) First the graduation, then the prom preparations, and finally, the prom. Did you know that some schools in Puerto Rico hold a prom for the students and parents? I was surprised and slightly embarrassed when my husband in-Tux and me in a floor length formal dress, entered the Sheraton Hotel in San Juan to attend a High School prom. (I had never attended a prom!) All discomfort was over though, when I saw Miss A entering the ballroom on her father's arm and floating down the aisle in a silky Grace Kelly classically draped and styled midnight blue dress. We have had several days of excitement while I put the realities of our life on hold. It's time now to face the trouble!


Longest University Student Strike on Record!!

The university has been on strike for just under a month. The semester was interrupted by the students a few weeks before the semester ended, and from there on it's gotten difficult. The students have three primary objectives, to stop Certificate 98 which would repeal tuition waivers for honor students, athletes, and children of university workers; they also want to block tuition increases planned for the summer and want the university to open its books so that everyone can see how the money is spent.
An undertow movement of greater political change in Puerto Rico is visibly apparent in posters and the discourse surrounding the strike; many of the protesting students desire some form of Independence and political autonomy for Puerto Rico. The strength of the strike comes from this group but most students are concerned about the overt fiscal issues, if not the Independence Movement. It's difficult because Puerto Rico is in a relationship with the United States that allows for US citizenship and self-government but these citizens cannot actually vote for the US President-though they can vote in the Presidential Primaries. Surprisingly, I have noticed that most Puerto Ricans are members of the Republican party. Still the majority voted for Hillary Clinton as their chosen leader in the United States but happily supported Pres. Obama when he was elected. (These statements are my observations only.) The political relationship is called a Free Associated State or Territory. It is a bit of a confusing love/hate muddle because the Federal government has a strong arm in Puerto Rico regarding law enforcement, and just as any US state desires their own say about what goes on withing its borders, Puerto Rico maintains the right of self-dominion.

[Evidence of the Independence Movement: The current Puerto Rican Governor, Luis Fortuno, is made to look like Batman's Joker in a prominently displayed poster near the UPR's front gate. Below the poster the word "fascismo" (fascism) is written-notice that the letter "o" is in the form of a peace sign. photo-me]

[Students camp out -eat and sleep- within the gates of UPR on all campuses island wide. photo-me]
Some harsh measures were taken to stop the student strike: water and electricity were shut off (later it was turned back on), for a time parents were not allowed to bring food and water, and a student and parent were injured by the police. Recently, Natalia Sanchez Lopez, a 21year old veterinarian student in Mayaguez was attending a student assembly and died from septic shock, which may have been caused by a viral infection and dehydration. Apparently, the Fire Department was warned about the lack of safe conditions-no water, no bathrooms, and no protection from the tropical heat. Regardless of these unsafe conditions, the Student Assembly took place. Students and professors grieve the loss of this lovely intelligent student. As a mother of a UPR university student and a professor dedicated to her students, I am seriously upset about this loss. (To read more about this loss in Spanish; and a detailed discussion about the negotiations click here.)

Finally, all the university professors, sin plaza (on contract), were called in on the 28th of May to sign a contract extension-the time and date was not flexible-everyone was to meet and sign. Professors from all around the island altered their schedules to cooperate;- of course thinking that this was an extension with pay. I should have been forewarned because of the date and time. We signed these contract extensions while an island wide strike took place, consequently, no union representatives were available to assist us in this unexpected turn of events.
When I arrived and spoke with a department director, I mentioned that all of the details of the extension were blank. I was told not to worry and that it would be filled in later by the administration. Friends, remember when your parents told you, "NEVER SIGN A BLANK CHECK"? I should have listened! Still I was concerned about the students because they haven't finished the semester. Without knowing, I signed up for a time commitment up to August 31-WITH NO PAY-excuse my redundancy but I am trying to understand what this means. I am ON CALL and then MUST WORK without pay. Most university semesters in Puerto Rico begin in the middle of August. Does this mean that professors are obligated to teach and cannot accept a position elsewhere? Does this mean that we are both employed and unemployed? Is this legal?
I do know it means that we have all lost our health insurance because I went to get a prescription filled on Saturday and there was no record of my account in the computer system.


[A rudimentary translation of this contract amendment from Spanish to English is:
As a result of the labor disagreement,
that is affecting the Rio Piedras campus, we are extending the second semester (Spring) to complete the required contact hours.

We are amending the termination date of your contract to August 31st, or whenever the Second semester ends for the academic year of 2009-10, whichever occurs first. photo and translation-me]

Do you notice it does not mention money or any of the ramifications of this adjustment? The professors were told that we could finish the semester anyway we wanted- on line, in person, by email?- or just turn in the grades. How is that finishing the semester or completing the required hours? Why isn't that orally given information in writing? I have noticed at least three serious problems: It appears because of the urgency and the timing of the meeting that this was a carefully planned out misrepresentation of the contract details. The university policy of signing contracts with blank spaces and missing details to be filled in later is worrisome at best and illegal at worst. Finally, in order to protect the universities accreditation, the students have a right and are obligated to finish their school hours when the strike is over. Why do the university officials tell professors that they can finish the contract "however they want" and yet put in writing that the hours must be completed? Is that ethical?

I am uncomfortable with all of these veiled secrets and subtle threats. Professors are worried about their future. Will I be hired next semester? Will I be full time? The uncertainty over career and the loss of income makes them "shut up and sign". The entire process of this contract extension was mishandled. I heard that the headlines in one of the local papers said that the professors were signing extensions- and that they were being paid for no work. (I haven't found the paper, but I think it was mentioned on local radio, too.) Why did the general public think that this extension of the semester was for pay? It seems that some of the confusion worked in favor of the administration. Everyone thought- because of past policy-that a contraction extension means you are being paid for the continued obligation. Most professors would expect that they have to finish the semester- at least for the sake of the students-and because of specifications in the original contract -therefore, no further arrangement needed to be made. We are routinely required to complete ethic's training hours!

Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble!
Trouble in paradise, indeed!

(Read the complete poem from Shakespeare's Macbeth and/or enjoy the adapted lyrics in Harry Potter)


  1. Oh my, trouble on all fronts. Stay cool, calm and confident. The law will prevail; and false contracts will be amended. That's the reason to have unions and lawyers review contracts before they are inacted. A word of advice? Let your representatives negotiate.

  2. Such happy news about the prom!
    I've only ever been to one as a chaperone.
    Less good news in the rest of the post.
    Do hope it gets resolved before too very long.

  3. Oh Cyn, no wonder you have not been on here very much. From my initial pleasure at reading about your daughter - and seeing her beautiful face again - I grew more and more horrified as I read on. These harsh harsh measures with the students protest and police state procedures with regards to blank contracts which HAVE to be signed - I can't begin to imagine how you are feeling at the moment.

    I do hope the health funding is sorted out soon - or is that now gone out of the window

    Thinking of you

  4. Thank you Ms.R(lakeviewer),I know you have been through your own battles. I am sure that it will be okay however it turns out. I don't want to get upset about things that I can't change. I appreciate your warmth.

    Hi Mrs. FF, what a lovely fair-minded person you are! Yes, we have a lot going on but it's too late about the health insurance. No one is allowed to get sick this summer!

    Last year, I had a month without health insurance because my contract was changed to save money.

    I made arrangements to meet with the insurance company and buy one month for 500.00. The next day I read that the university health care system was bankrupt. So we had no coverage.

    This year, I want to be calm and minimize the feeling of loss.
    I'm fine so don't worry! Sending you xx's and a big hug!

  5. Elizabeth,
    The prom was such a pretty event! Everyone dressed up in formal wear, incredible carefully prepared food was served, and lots of smiling faces could be seen all around! Parents stayed until about 11:30 because we have our bedtime but the newly graduated were up until all hours of the night! Thanks for your visit, friend!

  6. Cauldron bubble is right! Sorry to hear about the horrors. You've been missed in the blogworld and I can see why! But wonderful news on your daughter's graduation! She's so lovely and I see shades of her mother's beautiful face.

  7. holey moley, cynthia, this reads like the best and the worse! congratulations to your daughter. i think that is SO neat that you all went to the prom together. totally AWESOME!

    the work situation sounds so sticky and miserable. it certainly seems sneaky. yet, i have a feeling it will work out for you alright. i don't know what makes me say that but i think so.

    i enjoyed your visit to emily rabbit's post today. it is always nice to see and visit you.


  8. Congrats on your daughter's graduation. I guess tha trouble is cyclical. What is paradise today becomes hell tomorrow. I hope the situation is sorted out soon before it gets out of hand.

    Greetings from London.

  9. Congratulations to your daughter! She looks so happy. How funny to go to your daughter’s prom!

    I’ve always found the quasi American status of PR puzzling. Thanks for explaining it. I hope the strike resolves soon. I can’t imagine a no pay contract could be binding. Poor you!

  10. Willow, thanks for the congratulations. Miss A looks a bit like me when I was her age...well before the hair turned white! Maybe I'll have more time to write this summer! xx

  11. kj, hi there! I'm glad to see you here. Your comments are so appreciated and taken to heart. I think somehow things will get better too. I'm celebrating Miss A's graduation and the prom...are you on Facebook? Look for me so you can look at the photos. I put a new post on blogland lane. Have you seen it? for anyone else who might want to read. It's another visit to Old San Juan. Take care...and look me up on facebook. xx

    Sarah, I know exactly what you mean about the complicated political arrangement here. It is difficult to explain and I'm glad you read it. I thought most would just skip over that part. I'm hopeful that we can just finish soon and turn in our grades, then that would end the contract. Take care!

  12. Thanks for the visit, Cuban. Seeing beauty in spite of the trouble-that's the trick. I'm sure that it will be fine.

  13. Hi Cynthia,
    Happy news! the graduation! and prom, how wonderful they made it a family event. The rest will get sorted out i believe, as Lakeviewer so wisely put it.
    enjoy your days!
    xo lori

  14. wow, enjoy Amber's success, and the issue of the university is indignant, you know what I feel about the whole system, it's corrupt, unfair and unprofessional ,

  15. Better say nothing than nothing to the purpose. .........................................

  16. I hope it all works out Cynthia and in the mean time huge congratulations to Amber...xv

  17. I am very sorry the administration has done this to you. It is trickery all right and I don't think they are done with the trickery. As Tiggers continue doing what they do best, please keep on writing about it.

  18. Lori,I know that you also have many exciting graduation events to look back on! Thanks for the visit and your email note! xx

    Daphne, what can we do? We just do what we can. Thanks for reading, Ms. Energy!

    Vicki, yes, somehow everything resolves itself- hopefully the best situation works out for everyone. Thanks- about Miss A- I am accenting the positive! It's such a pleasure to see her do well. xx

    Eva, thanks for reading about this latest event. Now I'm reading that it's gotten even more complicated at UPR. I hope we are able to return next semester. I heard the U. P. might be closed??? I don't believe it...but so much comes out on the TV and Radio! Thanks for your warmth and concern!!


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