UMass-Boston faculty feel competition from Newton campus

Faculty at the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts on Wednesday presented trustees with a petition reflecting their continued concerns with a UMass Amherst facility in Newton, asking for a greater voice in the plans and more transparency around system operations.

Since UMass Amherst acquired the former Mount Ida College in Newton last year, Boston faculty members have been pressing system officials to address what they describe as competition for their programs from a facility about 12 miles away. They've pointed to budget cuts at UMass Boston and the potential for further drain on resources if their school is drawn into a competition with the flagship Amherst campus.

"This undermining of UMass Boston and its ability to fulfill its urban mission must not be allowed," UMass Boston Faculty Staff Union President Marlene Kim told the Board of Trustees before delivering the petition, which she said had 330 signatures.

The petition asks the trustees to establish "a more transparent process for approving academic programs or courses offered at the Newton campus" and to give UMass Boston "greater voice" in plans for UMass Amherst's Newton campus. It asks that any competing programs and courses in Newton "be immediately halted."

Though governed by a single board of trustees and falling under the umbrella of the UMass system's central office, the four undergraduate UMass campuses -- in Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and Amherst -- each have their own budgets and on-campus administration. The petition asks that "the UMass trustees operate the university as a truly coordinated system and not as a collective of individual competitive campuses."

A message Kim sent to UMass Boston faculty members last week, encouraging them to sign the petition, said that UMass Amherst offers a business and analytics master's degree program in Newton that "directly competes with offerings at UMass Boston." The message said the Newton campus "wants to offer 35 other programs, including a master's degree in Accounting and one in Computer Science."

Board members did not respond to the petition's presentation at the meeting.

A UMass Amherst spokesman characterized the level of competition differently.

"The Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst currently offers one undergraduate program in Veterinary Technology, adopted from Mount Ida College, and three graduate programs that are distinct and non-competitive with UMass Boston," Ed Blaguszewski said in a statement to the News Service. "The reference to 35 programs is presumably related to a list of potential programs, courses and certificates provided to the university's system office as part of the already established university process for vetting potential programs at secondary instructional sites."

Kenneth Reardon, director of UMass Boston's master's in urban planning and community development program, said some of his students had been contacted by the UMass Amherst geography department asking them to teach or take courses in Newton.

He said he and his program "unequivocally" support the concept of competition, but are "absolutely opposed to ... unfair competition enabled by our own Board of Trustees."

"You can't provide the lion's share of the higher ed support budget to our brothers and sisters in Amherst, allowing them to generously support graduate students where we get none of that graduate TA or research assistant support in our program, ask us to pay for the legacy construction cost of bad public construction done under a former administration which I won't name, impose austerity budgets on the UMass Boston campus, and then empower Amherst to use their surplus to set up a competing program 8 miles from our campus in a superior regional location than UMass Boston, which used to be, as you know, the old landfill site," Reardon told the board.

In April 2018, UMass Amherst officials announced the school would acquire the 74-acre campus of the shuttering Mount Ida College and use the site as "a center for Boston-area career preparation opportunities, utilizing its proximity to the nearby Newton-Needham Innovation District and the tech-focused Route 128 corridor."

UMass President Marty Meehan said at a legislative oversight hearing the following month that the Mount Ida campus "won't be competition for UMass Boston," and that UMass Amherst students deserve the same opportunities for internships.

"UMass Boston has more upside, I would argue, than probably any other campus, because of its location, because of its mission," Meehan said.


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