UMass-Boston faculty protest UMA programs in Newton

More than a year after the University of Massachusetts Amherst purchased a campus in Newton, faculty at UMass Boston are continuing to press system officials to address what they describe as competition with their school.

A trio of UMass Boston professors and the president of the Boston campus' Professional Staff Union are scheduled to address the UMass Board of Trustees at a meeting Thursday in Lowell.

Marlene Kim, an economics professor and president of the Faculty Staff Union at UMass Boston, said faculty members wish to raise concerns about the expansion of programs at the campus of the former Mount Ida College in Newton.

"If there's programs that need expanding in Boston, there is campus in Boston called UMass Boston, and we should not be competing for students or faculty to teach these classes," Kim said in an interview.

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."

Kim said the Mount Ida campus now offers business analytics and is considering a master's program in accounting, both of which are already offered in Dorchester at UMass Boston.

"If we already have a program 10 miles away, there should not be a different program," she said. "That's our position."

Kiran Verma, who chairs the accounting and finance department at UMass Boston, said the master's in accounting is a successful program for her department, and that UMB is currently the only public university in Massachusetts to offer such a degree.

"Now that there would be UMass Amherst offering that same degree, one would think we would lose some students, because now there is that flagship option, with all the branding that entails," she told the News Service.

Verma said the number of students enrolled in a program is one factor used to gauge how "robust" that program is, and a lower enrollment could ultimately translate to fewer faculty and eventually put the program "in peril."

UMass Boston Management professor David Levy plans to tell the board than an expansion of professional graduate programs at the Newton campus "represents an existential threat."

"We cannot be expected to compete when we are starved of resources for marketing, rankings, and
student services," Levy said in his prepared comments. "As Mt. Ida peels some of our students away, our programs will become vulnerable to the axe as our beleaguered administration seeks to chop smaller programs."

UMass Boston faculty members have addressed trustees at other meetings this year about their concerns with the Mount Ida campus. Verma said she's also hoping lawmakers have their eye on the issue.

The acquisition of the Mount Ida property by UMass Amherst sparked scrutiny from the state Legislature, including an inquiry by the Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee.

At a hearing the committee held in May 2018, UMass President Marty Meehan said 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 at the time, while UMass Boston was undergoing an ultimately unsuccessful search for a new chancellor. "UMass Boston needs new leadership and then we're ready to push forward on it."

The chancellor search relaunched last month, and a search committee held its first meeting on Aug. 27.

A series of emails among UMass officials, recently obtained and published by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, revealed new details about talks late last year between UMass Amherst and another financially strapped institution, Hampshire College.

Hampshire had been exploring potential partnerships to help keep its doors open. The emails, according to the newspaper, reveal terms UMass Amherst was considering: "closure of Hampshire College as it is today, with a teach out plan for current students, and eventual loss of jobs; the purchase of its physical assets by UMass to cover agreed upon liabilities; and the creation of a new entity (e.g., an academic college) as an administrative unit within UMA which helps generate sufficient revenue to cover the costs of the purchase transaction and ongoing operations."

As Hampshire prepared to welcome its roughly 700 students back to its Amherst campus this week, new college President Ed Wingenbach released a statement saying that the Hampshire trustees never "endorsed a partnership with UMass on these, or any other, terms."

"If Hampshire entered into any partnership with these conditions, we would have given up our autonomy, control, and identity," Wingenbach wrote. "To our community, which asked the difficult, critical questions, I say: you were right to do so. You resisted the idea of not accepting a class while exploring a partnership because it risked compromising our identity and closing the College. You helped preserve the possibility that Hampshire might continue as an independent College. Turning that opportunity into reality will be an enormous challenge, requiring significant risks and sacrifices; I’ve taken on the presidency because I believe preserving an independent Hampshire is worth taking those risks and paying those costs."

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