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Story behind funding cut at key CUNY research center draws attention

A key research center at the City University of New York is trying
to figure out how to fill a funding gap after suffering a dramatic
cut in this year’s city budget. But it’s the story behind that cut
that is getting attention. NY1′s Juan Manuel Benitez reports.

This year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade was dominated by political controversy.

The parade’s board decided to honor Puerto Rican nationalist leader
Oscar López Rivera as a “freedom hero.” 

Companies like Goya and politicians like Governor Andrew Cuomo
boycotted the parade.

“For one person, he’s an activist. For one person, he’s a
terrorist,” Cuomo said.

Amid the controversy, the board’s president, Lorraine Cortés
Vázquez, admits having asked for public support to people like Edwin
Meléndez, executive director of CUNY’s influential Center for Puerto
Rican Studies, also known as “Centro.” That support never came. 

“I think the position of the director is the right one because
Centro, at the end of the day, is an academic institution,” said
Harry Franqui-Rivera, former researcher with the Center for Puerto
Rican Studies. “And for Centro to establish its academic
credentials, Centro must be impartial.”

Weeks later, the City Council, led by López Rivera’s friend and
defender, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, cut Centro’s annual public
funding by almost 50 percent, leading people like Franqui-Rivera to
believe there was a connection.

The Speaker’s Office didn’t answer our questions on this matter. It
only released a statement indicating the Council added two new CUNY
institutes to its Higher Education discretionary funding: one on
Mexican studies and another on Haitian studies. Both received funding
that equals the amount being cut from Centro’s budget. 

Funds for Dominican Studies and Food Policy remain untouched.

“If there is a need to fund these centers, then the difference
should have been split between Centro and the Dominican Studies
program, or from another source. But it was not. Centro took the
hit,” said Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, former consultant with the
Center for Puerto Rican Studies. “This is why people are making
this inference.”

Meléndez and current Centro staffers declined to be interviewed. In
a statement, he said its core services will continue unaffected, and
indicated other funding sources will be identified.

Most of Centro’s budget comes from the state. 

Activists and academics say Centro needs the funding now more than
ever in order to continue its education and debate work at this time
of crisis in Puerto Rico. 

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