In part one of this series on UMass Boston’s budget crisis, we reviewed the causes of this deficit. Now, we’ll look at the various ways the FSU has been fighting these cuts by working with our sister unions, the Classified and Professional Staff Unions (CSU and PSU) and our state affiliate, Massachusetts Teachers Association, and offering alternative solutions that wouldn’t hurt the students, faculty, and staff.
In April 2017, over 200 protestors came together outside the Board of Trustees meeting at UMB to protest the cuts. FSU President Marlene Kim spoke to the Trustees, telling them how the cuts were harming students and faculty, and that CAPS courses were being cancelled that summer which many students needed to graduate. UMass system President Marty Meehan told the Trustees that they had no intention of cutting these courses, since they were profitable. But they were wrong: CAPS courses had been cut, without their knowledge. The courses were reinstated that afternoon.
The FSU wrote a petition to protest these cuts, the lack of faculty input, and the lack of transparency in the budget cutting process. This petition garnered over 500 signatures and was presented to the Trustees at this April meeting and to Interim Chancellor Barry Mills. We also put out a call to faculty to report to us any problems in their departments that resulted from these cuts. The FSU reported these problems to the administration so they could be resolved…but they were not, and the administration continues to insist there have been no problems affecting students or faculty whatsoever.
In September 2017, Kim, along with CSU President Janelle Quarelles and PSU Vice President Anneta Argyres attended another Board of Trustees meeting, where they spoke about the harm the budget cuts were inflicting on the entire campus community, as well as how they could be avoided. Rather than welcome their suggestions, however, Chairman Robert Manning responded by accusing UMB of being mismanaged for a decade, He claimed that Governor Baker and the Trustees were helping us more than anyone had before, that bad decisions made on campus had resulted in engineering and nursing being located in crumbling buildings and, finally, that outside auditors had determined UMB had a “culture that was corrupt.”
Just like in April, the Board of Trustees’ claims were utterly wrong. Most of the increased costs at UMB contributing to the deficit are from the costs of construction, and while part one in this series demonstrated that negligent construction in the 1970s and UMB being forced to pay for most of the costs needed to remedy this (including the substructure, parking, moving the utility corridor, and the new buildings needed to replace the old ones) are really responsible for this. Furthermore, Governor Baker cancelled the construction of academic building that would have housed engineering and nursing. Manning’s claim that the Board of Trustees has helped us more than anyone is not true if you look over the past 30 years: UMB has certainly not received more assistance than other UMass campuses in building construction costs . And as for UMB having a “corrupt culture,” the outside auditors Manning referenced never said that. But the meaning was clear: the Board of Trustees will not help UMB, and they are blaming UMB for its deficit.
After staff members were cut, the PSU and CSU organized the recent protest on November 29th at the Board of Trustees’ Administration and Finance meeting. Many among the more than 50 people who braved the early morning cold were , which many FSU members standing in solidarity with UMass staffmembers attended. For several hours, the protesters assembled in front of the meeting building at One Beacon Street displayed signs and shouted chants as they marched against the layoffs and other austerity measures enacted by the Trustees. They were joined by MTA President Barbara Madeloni and State Representative Mike Connolly who gave rousing speeches denouncing the layoffs. A smaller group attended the meeting inside, where the Trustees revealed that the UMass system exceeded expectations with a 1.6 percent positive operating margin in fiscal year 2017 versus the projected 0.1 percent margin. Two UMB students, Juan Pablo Blanco and Madelin Walker, made impassioned speeches to the Trustees about the unique urban mission of the university and urged them to release $5 million from the $96 million in the system’s unrestricted central reserves to reverse the layoffs, as well as officially endorse the Fair Share Amendment. Full transcripts of their speeches can be found here. After the students’ speeches, the group inside posed several pointed questions to the Trustees, including “will you vote to release $5 million from central reserves to save 50 people’s jobs and 500 years of experience?” The Trustees declined to respond. A surprising and encouraging consequence of this protest has been a public expression of support by UMass President Meehan for the Fair Share Amendment.
We will continue to work with PSU and CSU to keep the pressure on the Board of Trustees at their next meeting on December 8th at 9 am at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center located at 50 Warren St., Lowell, MA in the Main Ballroom, 1st Floor.
Join your colleagues to demand that the Trustees back our proposal that the state pay for the utility corridor, the substructure, and the new buildings at UMB. This would not cost the Trustees anything and would be immensely helpful.
It’s crucial to remember that UMB enriches the community in unique and important ways. UMB’s student body consists of 47% of all black undergraduates in the entire UMass system, 29% of all Latinos, and 34% of all Asian-Americans, despite only having 23% of the system’s students. And almost half of our student body is made up of first generation college students. Almost half are low income students who qualify for federal Pell Grants. UMB has been at the forefront of giving opportunities to students of color and working class families.
We should expect the state to support UMB, though at present, state funding is among the lowest in the country, driving up tuition costs.
The FSU will continue to fight for UMB by meeting with Trustees, gathering support through petitions, organizing, attending protests, and Massachusetts legislators. In fact, the unions worked with MTA to add a legislative amendment to the House capital bond bill, which would have transferred debt from UMB infrastructure to the state. Unfortunately, this did not pass, but we are seeking a state senator to sponsor a similar amendment.
The students, faculty, and staff of UMB make Boston and, indeed, Massachusetts, a stronger place by leveling some of the tremendous inequalities in educational opportunities that plague our region. We should not be forced to pay for someone else’s mistakes. More importantly, we have to resist destructive “solutions” like cuts to faculty, staff, and students, which prevent us from fulfilling our urban mission.
If you have any information about how these widespread cuts have caused problems in your department, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.