Strike disrupts research at Puerto Rico’s top university

Source: Science

Last week molecular biologist Juan Ramirez-Lugo put all his coral samples in the freezer, locked the door of his lab, and told his six undergraduate assistants to stay home the next day. The assistant professor of biology at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in San Juan wasn’t happy about yet another disruption to his research on seasonal variations in how corals respond to thermal stress and his efforts to give undergraduates “authentic research experiences.” But he felt he had no choice.

Ramirez-Lugo’s campus has been shut down since late March, when students began a peaceful protest against proposed massive cuts to the territory’s flagship university as part of a slew of austerity measures to address the territory’s fiscal crisis. On 10 May the strikers voted to ignore a judge’s order to end their protest, raising concerns about possible violence if the authorities tried to enforce the court ruling.

That didn’t happen, and the next day Ramirez-Lugo was able to return to work. However, he and the rest of the UPR faculty remain pawns in a larger battle over the U.S. territory. The fate of its 3.6 million residents rests in the hands of a federal judge who this week began hearing testimony from the government and those owed some $74 billion in bonds. (Puerto Rico also has $49 billion in unfunded pension obligations.)