Student protests at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) have been continuing for over a year, with the latest flair up occurring in response to a 50% ($800) increase in tuition and attempts to privatize the university. While this might not seem like much compared to the huge fee hikes seen at the University of California, Puerto Rican students are considerably poorer, with two-thirds qualifying for Pell Grants. Student leaders say that 5,000 students were unable to afford the new tuition, while university officials acknowledge that enrollment has declined from 60,000 last semester, to 54,000 this semester.
The UPR administration called in the riot police and SWAT teams, who have occupied the Rio Piedras campus for months, brutally attacking protesting students with clubs and pepper spray. Some students were reportedly beaten and others sexually assaulted by the police. The police presence on campus was the first in 30 years, creating student outrage and heightening tensions. Riot police finally left the Rio Piedras campus on Monday. On Thursday, students took advantage of the “peace” and blocked the social science and humanities buildings with trashcans and chairs. Professors mostly honored the blockade, with only one attempting to enter the building.