A petition to Save the Integrity, Mission and Resources of The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at CUNY

A public petition from Puerto Rican and Latino Studies scholars, members of the Puerto Rican community, and their supporters

The Center for Puerto Rican Studies (“Centro”) is unquestionably the leading research and policy institution in Puerto Rican Studies in the US and Puerto Rico, and a leading research center in US Ethnic and Colonial Studies. Since its inception in 1973, Puerto Rican, Latino, Latin American and American Studies scholars have depended on its archives, research, education, publications, policy, and outreach missions, as well as its community-building efforts at CUNY and among the Puerto Rican communities in New York City and beyond. Not only is Centro the institutional anchor of Puerto Rican Studies, it is also one of the earliest and most prominent ethnic studies intellectual and exemplary inclusive spaces in the US with a social justice mission and outlook, centered on anti-racist, anti-xenophobic and anti-colonial struggles.

Centro is currently the key interdisciplinary voice for Puerto Ricans in the area of public policy. Lawmakers and administrators in Puerto Rico and in states like New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida, and in the Federal government, as well as key leaders in various agencies and nonprofits rely on Centro reports, research and resources to formulate legislation, public policy and support agendas, especially in the aftermath of Maria and the continued multiple crises faced by Puerto Rico in the last fifteen years.

A product of Puerto Rican civil rights struggles, and particularly reflective of the challenges and triumphs of New York City’s Puerto Rican communities, Centro belongs to all Puerto Rican New Yorkers, and all who treasure historical archives and the preservation of history in the making. The extraordinary oral history projects sponsored by and archived in Centro have served as data for generations of scholars doing research on themes related to Puerto Ricans, New York City, migration, education, health, arts and culture, and many other fields in the humanities and social sciences. Its work highlighting the status of Puerto Rican communities in the US and the problems faced by Puerto Rico have been another important contribution by Centro.

In 1984, Dr. Donna Shalala, then President of Hunter College invited Centro to move to Hunter from John Jay College. Since then, the added value and visibility that Centro has brought to Hunter College has increased manifold. Indeed, knowledge of Hunter College and CUNY for thousands of scholars, students and community people, nationally and internationally, comes from their contact with Centro —its archives, publications, web site, events and community outreach programs.

Yet, Centro has faced serious challenges and obstacles for years, preceding the economic crisis we are all facing during the coronavirus pandemic. Having become aware of the precarious situation that Centro is undergoing as reflected in continuous budget cuts (beginning with Governor Pataki’s 1995 “retrenchment” cuts) and still unfilled positions, we urge Hunter College President Jennifer Raab, CUNY Chancellor Dr. Félix Matos Rodríguez, and CUNY’s Board of Trustees to respond to these demands:

  • That a national search be conducted, starting in the Spring 2021 semester, for a senior scholar with a track history of scholarship in Puerto Rican Studies and institutional leadership. The search should be transparent, and the search committee should include representatives from Centro, Hunter College, other CUNY institutions and from the Puerto Rican community. The College should also hire a recognized talent recruiter to identify and encourage qualified candidates to apply.

  • That any financial burden Centro must bear, considering the fiscal constraints the State, City, CUNY and Hunter face, be apportioned equitably and proportionately. We, however, strenuously oppose that Hunter College ameliorates its budget woes at the gratuitous expense of Centro.

  • The Library/Archives is one of Centro’s, Hunter’s and CUNY’s crown jewels. Yet, the position of Director of the Library and Archives has been vacant for over 3 years. During that period two national searches have been conducted, and qualified candidates selected. Each year, at the end of the search process, the College has failed to fill the position, leaving the position vacant. An immediate search process that culminates in an actual hiring must take place.

  • A senior librarian retired two years ago, and the position has gone unfilled. Further aggravating the problems faced by the Library/Archives, the senior archivist will retire this academic year. Those two lines must also be filled immediately. Many other positions have been lost in the library, archive and media production work of Centro.

  • Centro’s initiative to create a nurturing pipeline of junior scholars in the humanities and social sciences is being shut-off. One research associate position has been vacant for 2.5 years and the position has not been allowed to be filled. Two additional research associate positions have become vacant this year and they have also not been allowed to be filled. All three positions must be filled as soon as possible. As it is, even this number represents a historic decline in the resources that Centro has had for research positions.

  • At the inauguration of the Library and Archives new facilities at the Silberman School of Social Work building in East Harlem President Raab publicly announced that from then on, the cost of archiving Centro’s collection at safe offsite storage facilities would be borne by the College. Three years ago, that promise was reneged on and the cost of almost $100,000 per year was passed to Centro. We ask that President Raab honor her promise or CUNY’s central office to find other sources of funding for this important resource.

  • Restore all adjunct, part time and college assistance lines. For example, the cutting of the adjunct lines directly threatens the survival of CENTRO Journal and Centro Press as the release time for the editor comes from that budget.

Centro is a singularly valuable academic resource to Hunter College and the City University of New York. Protecting and enhancing its institutional integrity must be a leading university goal. Centro’s archives and library, its researchers, its dissemination vehicles (e.g., Centro Journal and Centro Press) as well as its popular engagement programs (e.g., Data Center and the outreach unit) must be preserved and sustained. We call on the university and the college to act on it.

Submitted respectfully,

Aldo A. Lauria Santiago
Rutgers University, New Brunswick

[This petition was drafted and revised by a group of nearly 20 Puerto Rican Studies scholars]

Yes! I stand with Puerto Rico and the Diaspora to save and support The Center for Puerto Rican Studies