Posteado por: tucidides | 22 mayo 2010

UPR administration: Not only incompetent, but manipulative?

By Jorge L. Giovannetti

Commentary
Since the early stages of the conflict at the University of Puerto Rico, the different sides have entered into a sterile discussion of majorities and minorities. As the conflict escalated, the discussion has been also simplified by concentrating on the strike, without addressing the important reasons behind it. An example of this simplification was the poll administered by the Division of Academic and Administrative Technologies of the UPR, in which according to the memorandum, students would vote on: “Indefinite strike, yes or no.”
Other than ignoring the important issues behind the strike, the poll made evident the contradictions of the UPR administration. While constantly stressing the need to deal with the official representatives of the students, the Student Council, all of a sudden, the administration gave legitimacy to “a group of students” — unnamed and not quantified. We never knew who they were (legitimate?) or how many (majority or minority?).
Moreover, given that this is the UPR, one would expect that someone at the helm of the institution, even a third-class adviser, would reason: Isn’t it better — and indeed more intelligent — to ask the students about the issues that triggered the strike in the first place? Moreover, given that the “mechanisms” were there to implement the poll (presented as a “democratic process”), wouldn’t it be good to conduct an opinion poll asking more substantive questions related to those issues, or in fact, the university?
But no, the important issue for the administration was the strike, and that was the only question to ask. In that way, the administration made evident their political positioning and leanings. But whatever their inclinations, the results of the poll as presented, not only reveal the possibility of manipulation, but backfired at the majority/minority discourse of the government and the administration.
To begin, the memorandum announcing the poll stipulated that the decision was going to be in response to the query “indefinite strike, yes or no?” Yet, the results as presented are to a different question: “Finish the indefinite strike, yes or no?” I am not a student and could not vote, and therefore I don’t know which of these two questions was presented to the students. But in “Poll 101” for beginners, the latter question (number 2) is by all means a charged question. Also, if the poll was presented officially through the memo with question number 1, and then actually administered with question number 2, one has to think that a “yes” to the indefinite strike is very different to a “yes” to finish the indefinite strike. This must have created confusion that affected the results.
The administration, then, not only has to clarify questions about the nature of the group requesting this poll and why they gave them legitimacy. Now, to add to their incompetence in handling the whole conflict, they have to respond to what seems to be a manipulation of the opinion poll.
To this, we then add the backfire of the results as presented by the administration — even with their charged question different from the one initially posited. The results were a split decision with 50.66 percent or 2,192 students voting to finish the indefinite strike, and 49.34 percent or 2,135 voting that it should not finish. Now, for all practical purposes we must be clear that the participation in this poll was of roughly 25 percent of the student body, which in itself is a minority. That being said, the difference between — to use Gov. Fortuño’s words — the “minuscule group” that protest, or 49.34 percent, and the “inmensísima mayoría,” or “immense majority,” that wants classes to continue, 50.66 percent, is only 57 votes. On what grounds can one then believe the political discourse of majorities and minorities held by the UPR administration and the government?
The poll backfired in that while it seems to have legitimated the intentions of the administration (i.e. ending the strike) for 0.66 percent, it disproved their argument of the protesters being a minority (of the participants, of course). That the strike was ratified by the latest student assembly, also exemplified that the minority was not really the minority that they thought (both in quantity and in quality). And yet, the administration still questioned the participation in the assembly, something that they surely would not have done if the results would have been otherwise, following their desires. And yes, some 2,500 students in attendance are not a majority for a university having around 18,000 students enrolled, but the open question here to administrators and historians is, which student assembly in the history of the UPR has had such  widespread participation? As far as I am concerned, that was a well-attended — and well-conducted — assembly.
Sadly, we have witnessed how the UPR administration and the government responds to the exercise of democracy; with the full exercise of bureaucratic and hierarchical university power, backed by the brute and repressive force of the state. In the midst of the conflict, the Deputy Chancellor has reasonably, and tactically, questioned where the other students were, the thousands missing from the assemblies, and indeed from the poll. However, an alternate question is: What kind of university has taken shape in the last decades in which thousands of students can easily just disappear or appear not to care about what happens in the UPR. Until they show up, this so-called “silent majority,” I think it is reasonable to stick with the so-called “minority,” who obviously care about the university.
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The author is an associate professor of Sociology at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus
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