Puerto Rico: In Defense of the Hispanic Studies Department

On January 14th Diálogo Digital [es] revealed that the administration of the University of Puerto Rico was putting “on pause” 10 academic programs, including the program of Hispanic Studies, citing low student enrollment. Diálogo Digital reports on the announcement of the decision by the interim director of the program, María Luisa Lugo:

Recesar o poner en “pausa” implica, según el correo de Lugo (emitido el 14 de enero de 2010), que “nuestro programa subgraduado no podrá admitir estudiantes el próximo agosto 2011 hasta que hagamos una propuesta en la que expliquemos qué podemos hacer para incrementar el número de estudiantes en nuestro programa”.

To recess or put on “pause” implies, according to the mail from Lugo (sent on January 14th of 2010) that “our undergraduate program will not be able to admit students the next August of 2011 until we make a proposal where we explain what can we do to increment the number of students in the program.”

In the midst of protests and a severe crisis, various academic programs have been put on pause at the University of Puerto Rico. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz of Diálogo. Republished under a CC License.*

In a column for Revista Latitudes [es], Geraldine Márquez-Santiago gives a first hand account of how the faculty members of the English Department found out that the English Linguistics and Communication program would suffer the same fate. She also criticizes the decision:

Eliminating and putting on pause these programs only creates a paradox. They eliminate them because “no one” wants to take them, but simultaneously close the door for the new freshman students who want to join the programs. The truth of the matter is that the administration wants to cut back on the spending, and, instead of focusing on the things that do not bring anything to the table, they have merely decided to do budget cuts, fire professors and eliminate what they perceive to be useless.

The pause was quickly condemned by faculty and students of the department. Diálogo Digital reported that a group of students and faculty members called for a press conference[es] and stated that the program was not on pause:

Por su parte, Desireé López, estudiante de maestría, cuestionó la legitimidad del proceso arguyendo que el reglamento de la UPR no contempla la acción de “pausar programas académicos”. “Es un invento irresponsable e ilegal. La Universidad tiene el compromiso legal y moral de ofrecer esta oferta académica al que así lo solicite”, añadió la estudiante.

By her part, Desireé López, a master’s degree student, questioned the legitimacy of the process arguing that the UPR's regulations do not contemplate the act of “pausing academic programs”. “It is an illegal and irresponsible invention. The University has the legal and moral commitment of making available this academic offering to those that ask for it”, added the student.

Ana María Fuster Lavín argues in her blog Bocetos de una Ciudad Silente[es] that it is a duty to preserve the Hispanic Studies department and that the administration is taking the wrong approach if indeed there are too few students to justify its existence:

En lugar de dar la excusa de que la matrícula no es muy amplia y la oferta no convoca a suficientes estudiantes, en la administración central de la UPR deberían preguntarse qué pueden hacer para atraer a las nuevas generaciones a Estudios Hispánicos, y de ese modo revitalizar y mantener activo un Departamento emblemático, necesario y productivo.

Instead of giving the excuse that there is not enough enrollment and that the offering does not convene enough students, the central administration of the UPR should be asking themselves what they can do to attract new generations to Hispanic Studies, and this way revitalize and keep alive an emblematic, necessary and productive department.

Hispanic Studies professor Mercedes López Baralt[es] expressed her dismay on a written communication published in its entirety by the online publication 80 Grados[es]:

Por su indiscutible utilidad, que no se cuenta en dólares. Porque si la lengua es la patria, la literatura es el umbral de la belleza, la llave de la memoria histórica y la puerta hacia la trascendencia. Nos permite conocernos y nos abre ventanas al universo. Funda el diálogo que tiende puentes hacia otros mundos, sentando los cimientos de una cultura de paz y de respeto a la diversidad. Por eso hoy el Departamento de Estudios Hispánicos es más necesario que nunca.

Its undisputed usefulness, which can not be measured in dollars. Because if language is the motherland, literature is the threshold of beauty, the key to historic memory and the door to transcendence. It allows us to know ourselves and opens windows to the universe. It founds the dialog that extends bridges to other worlds, settling the foundations of a culture of peace and respect for diversity. This is why today the Department of Hispanic Studies is more necessary than ever

The complete list of “paused” programs has been published by Diálogo Digital[es] and can be found here.

*This post is part of our special coverage of the student strike at the University of Puerto Rico.
*Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz of Diálogo republished under CC License NC-ND 3.0.

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