Cosas veredes en la UPR

Cosas veredes en la UPR

Published April 28, 2013 | By Carlos A. Colón De Armas

Desde el año fiscal 2010, la Universidad de Puerto Rico (UPR) viene atravesando por una crisis fiscal.  La forma en que los directivos de nuestro principal centro docente han lidiado con esa situación ha sido mediante la reducción de gastos, sin haber realizado esfuerzos significativos dirigidos a procurar fondos adicionales para la institución.



A la misma vez que se han estado experimentando esos problemas fiscales, personas claves en la alta gerencia de la UPR han venido argumentando que la institución tiene que evolucionar siguiendo el modelo de las universidades de los Estados Unidos cuyas actividades académicas giran, principalmente, en torno a la investigación.  Según alegan, ese cambio es necesario para mejorar la calidad académica del principal centro docente del país.

Los principales administradores de la UPR no parecen darse cuenta de que esas dos posturas son contradictorias pues, contrario a lo que han proyectado, el costo de operar la UPR es mucho menor de lo que cuesta operar el tipo de universidad que dicen querer emular.

A manera de ejemplo, los salarios en esas universidades son el doble y hasta el triple del salario que reciben los profesores de la UPR.  No obstante esa mayor compensación, la carga académica de los profesores en esas universidades es de seis a nueve créditos por semestre mientras en la UPR el profesorado enseña, por lo menos, doce créditos por semestre.  A esto habría que añadirle los recursos de apoyo a la investigación y de otro tipo que están disponibles en esas universidades, pero no en la UPR.

Lamentablemente, mientras han continuado diciendo que desean un modelo de universidad que no es cónsono con sus gestiones financieras, la National Science Foundation (NSF) congeló los fondos que le enviaba a la UPR.  Aunque la investigación correspondiente por la NSF no ha concluido, es posible que se hayan utilizado algunos de esos fondos para sufragar gastos que se debieron haber atendido de otra forma y para los cuales se debieron haber procurado otras fuentes de recursos.

Para tratar de cambiar el rumbo de la institución, en días recientes se propuso alterar la composición de la Junta de Síndicos de la UPR para aumentar el número de profesores(as) en la misma.  El presidente de la UPR se opuso a esa propuesta argumentando que ser miembro de la Junta de Síndicos le representa un conflicto de intereses al personal claustral.  Presumiblemente, si hay un conflicto de intereses por ser parte del cuerpo directivo de la UPR, pues tener un puesto administrativo de alta jerarquía en la institución como, por ejemplo, de presidente o rector, también debería representar un conflicto de intereses para quien también ostente un puesto de profesor(a).  Por lo tanto, debido al hecho de que tanto el presidente de la UPR como los rectores de todos los recintos también son profesores(as), usando su propia lógica, la pregunta obligada es:  ¿cuándo entonces podemos esperar sus renuncias?

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FBI joins NSF inquiry into UPR’s use of funds

Edition: March 14, 2013 | Volume: 41 | No: 9

University irregularities put $92 million for research in jeopardy

The consequences of University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) noncompliance with National Science Foundation (NSF) requirements involving the reporting of time, effort, compensation and incentives for research projects funded by the federal agency could have more far-reaching consequences for the university’s research & development than originally anticipated.

Now the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has reportedly joined the NSF inquiry.

At issue are an estimated $52.2 million in suspended NSF funds, of which $17 million is unrecoverable. If there is no change in NSF policies, a total of $92 million in funds are at stake, and more could follow if other agencies also freeze funding. As a result, research projects have been directly affected.

Among the scientists affected, the most competent are reportedly leaving the UPR or are planning to do so. This could amplify the effect of the brain drain Puerto Rico is suffering.

From a market point of view, it could be disastrous, a source connected to the UPR’s central administration told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. «In a knowledge-based economy, this situation is dismantling our capacities to generate income, and credit-rating institutions are surely taking note of that,» the source said. «Trust is shattered among the entities and there is a risk of [discovering] more irregularities. It usually is a red fl ag for all of them.»

In addition to the NSF, other federal funding sources for the UPR include the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, National Institutes of Health and the departments of Defense and Energy.

The NSF, an independent federal agency, has granted 30% of the UPR’s funding destined for research since the 1980s. Most of the funding has been earmarked to the university’s Resource Center for Science & Engineering (CRCI by its Spanish acronym).


However, the crisis doesn’t stop with the cessation of federal funding. UPR sources indicated that in recent months the nature of the inquiries has changed, as well as the purpose of the investigation. «Since February, the NSF said there would be no more money,» a source explained. «But they are still investigating everything. This process has the features of a criminal investigation.»

In October 2012, the NSF’s Inspector General Office (IGO) initiated a legal investigation of CRCI’s research projects and UPR’s Mayagüez campus (RUM by its Spanish acronym). IGO required full disclosure of the projects through a subpoena, utilizing this legal recourse for the first time. In response, UPR President Miguel Muñoz announced the hiring of the Drinker, Bidddle & Reath LLP law firm to «provide legal services in affairs related to the NSF.»

The story continues to unfold. UPR’s Medical Sciences Campus President Rafael Rodríguez recently informed the university’s Academic Senate that the FBI has joined the investigation.


In February 2010, after the NSF visited the UPR’s central administration, the CRCI and RUM, 32 areas were identified to be in noncompliance with federal regulations. Five of the irregularities were infringements of rules from White House Office of Management & Budget’s A-21 circular on cost principles, NSF’s award and administration guidelines, and time & effort used for research so payment can be made, particularly related to salaries and compensation for faculty.

At the end of 2010, the central administration proposed a corrective action plan (CAP) to the NSF. In February 2011, the NSF accepted the plan. However, the CAP wasn’t publicly divulged until October 2012.

In February 2012, a year after accepting the plan, the NSF sent a letter requesting clarification of the policies and procedures, and status reports on the CAP, warning the deadline to correct all deficiencies would be April 1.

The NSF raised flags in a letter dated April 23, 2012, when it announced the suspension of all awards to the UPR’s central administration and RUM (with the exception of one award). More than two years have elapsed since the original findings put the UPR at a critical juncture in its history. The federal agency said its motive for the suspension was the UPR’s constant failure to adequately report the time and effort utilized in its federally funded research projects. The measure also led to the loss of 74% of the funds the NSF grants to the public university, about $52.2 million.

When the NSF suspended all awards in April 2012, the measure originally was for 60 days. However, in June, the federal agency considered the noncompliance issues persistent and made the measure indefinite. In August of that year, the NSF decided not to revise the decision until 2013.


Within the walls of the UPR, the issue is more than a failure of compliance. Rather, the federal actions are responding more to a scheme of wrongful profit and its cover-up.

Federal guidelines spell out how funds must be spent, a source told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. To pay professors involved in research—in addition to their basic salary and a reduced academic schedule—professors are assigned a sum of money from the grants, which can’t exceed 30% of their wage as compensation for their participation, according to circular A-21.

The source said the way to report time & effort was out of control, and some professors’ salaries had increased by more than 100%. «You could see professors whose basic wages were about $80,000 a year, and suddenly they were earning $300,000 annually.»

The source said to sidestep the limitation on salaries, professors were assigned funds destined for other expenditures, such as indirect costs.

An explanatory vote issued in January by the UPR’s board of trustees—denying payment of about $7 million from the Government Development Bank to compensate for the loss of funds—referred to a report that stated, «Subject 1, in 2012, collected $43,000 in indirect costs for NSF research concluded in July 2011.» The report added, «Subject 1 received a compensation increase for directing the CRCI, from $24,000 in 2010 to $48,000 in 2012, to conduct the same chores.»

CRCI Director Manuel Gómez, who couldn’t be reached by CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, has denied there was a scheme to make profit from the funding, which he said was a common misunderstanding over different accounting methods. The scientist, with a career of more than 40 years, said at the UPR, each professor/researcher determines the number of hours he or she will dedicate to research investigations.

The NSF’s next visit is scheduled for March 15.

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