Anger, frustration mark UMass board meeting at Dorchester campus

UMass Boston students, professors and faculty members protested on Wednesday at a Board of Trustees meeting. Colin A. Young/SHNS photo

Alleging a lack of respect for the Dorchester campus's urban mission and its efforts to revitalize itself, students, staff and community members from University of Massachusetts-Boston aired their grievances Wednesday with the UMass system trustees.

The UMass Board of Trustees met Wednesday morning in UMass-Boston's campus center, with the construction that signifies at once the source of the campus's financial troubles and its hope for the future as a backdrop. Inside the ballroom, students, faculty and community members held signs protesting budget cuts intended to reduce the UMass-Boston deficit.

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"While we have some pretty good ideas about who shares the blame, one thing we know: exactly none is shared by our students, staff, faculty or low-wage immigrant janitors, 30 percent of whom have already been laid off," Tom Goodkind, president of the UMass-Boston Professional Staff Union, told the board. "This board has been complicit in our predicament at least since the adoption of our 2011 strategic plan. If this body cannot find the strength to publicly defend our unique mission, to worry even more about our students, staff and faculty than about our bondholders ... if you all can't do that, then I don't understand what it is you do."

The campus on the Columbia Point peninsula in Dorchester has been embroiled in recent months in controversy over its projected deficit, the circumstances that led to the deficit and what some perceived as an attempt to push Chancellor Keith Motley out of his office.

Motley announced last week he will resign at the end of June, take a year-long sabbatical and then return to teaching at UMass-Boston. Barry Mills, the former president of Bowdoin College who was brought in last month by UMass officials to serve as UMass-Boston's deputy chancellor and chief operating officer, will serve as interim chancellor.

"It is just very, very troubling in the way this all was presented, the way that it was all done, publicly in the press, to diminish a giant in our community," Sen. Linda Forry said Wednesday. "But know that we will work and we will continue to work with the UMass system in the Legislature."

Though Motley has tendered his resignation, Forry on Wednesday pressed the Board of Trustees to not accept it. UMass President Martin Meehan, when asked about Motley's resignation on Tuesday, said, "He's made a decision."

"I know decisions have been made and Chancellor Motley has given his resignation, but I ask the board to rethink that, to rethink Chancellor Motley stepping down as our chancellor of this great university," Forry said. "You have the power to do that, you do. And that's what we ask of you, that's what students ask of you."

Throughout the meeting, Motley sat at the end on a long table closest to the audience and in the seat furthest from Meehan and Board Chairman Robert Manning. Mills was seated in the second row of the audience. Motley nodded his head to acknowledge speakers who defended him but did not address the board or audience Wednesday.

Goodkind detailed the original construction of the UMass-Boston campus, a project rife with corruption that led to the jailing of two state senators, and argued that the campus has been mistreated ever since.

"No other university in this state, public or private, has faced quite what we have in the effects of corruption and disinvestment," he said. "Not coincidentally, no other Massachusetts university boasts a student population like ours."

The UMass-Boston campus is home to 23 percent of the UMass system's students, Goodkind said, but counts as students 47 percent of the system's black undergrad students, 39 percent of its Latino students and 34 percent of its Asian students. Sixty-one percent of UMass-Boston students are the first in their family to attend college, he said.

"Taking the steps we've taken over the last couple of months have been to preserve UMass-Boston's vital mission, avoid steep tuition increases for students, and protect the teaching and learning environment on campus," Meehan said Wednesday.

What had initially been pegged at close to a $30 million deficit has been reduced through budget fixes like "expense adjustments" and UMass officials announced Tuesday that the Boston campus is now projected to end this fiscal year with a deficit of between $6 million and $7 million.

Driving the deficit is a long-term facility and infrastructure construction project that's ballooned over its initial $750 million budget, UMass officials have said, and a slowdown in enrollment-connected revenue as enrollment growth lags amid the construction.

One budget fix included cutting classes and programs at the campus. Marlene Kim, a UMass-Boston professor and president of the Faculty Staff Union, said that 60 classes had initially been canceled for the summer. Forty of those courses, she said, have since been reinstated through an agreement between her union and the university, though the fate of some fall courses remains in doubt.

"There is less education and research on this campus. We cannot perform our jobs, we can't educate our students. You are not preserving the teaching and education mission on campus," Kim told the trustees. "This is not the direction we want to go."

Kim, Goodkind and others objected Wednesday to any action to balance the campus budget by eliminating opportunities for students and pressed for university officials to be more forthcoming with information on the campus's fiscal health.

"What is most upsetting to me is that we have to constantly come to this board and ask for respect, something that should be at the forefront," Janelle Quarles, president of the Classified Staff Union, said. "This last year at UMass-Boston has been a trying one to say the very least ... we still cannot get a straight answer from anyone when we ask about the cuts or the rumors and only when there is a breaking news story do we have confirmation that there has been a change that could significantly impact students and staff."

She added, "One clear takeaway from all of this is a lack of respect for the very people who make this place function. Why is that? We are not to blame for these deficits."



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