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UMass students, staff voice concerns at trustee meeting

Many blast Motley’s perceived ouster, speak out against cuts, dropped courses

Yawu Miller | 4/19/2017, 11:07 a.m.
Students, faculty and staff from UMass Boston interrupted a meeting of the UMass Board of Trustees chanting “No cuts, no ...
Some in the audience held signs calling for more funding for public higher education in Massachusetts. Banner photo

Students, faculty and staff from UMass Boston interrupted a meeting of the UMass Board of Trustees chanting “No cuts, no hikes! Education is a right!” last Thursday, underscoring anger that surfaced after revelations the school’s annual deficit may be as high as $30 million, along with what many perceive as the forced resignation of Chancellor Keith Motley.

“UMass Boston made invaluable progress under the chancellorship of J. Keith Motley,” said Pantea Fatemi Ardestani, a student member of the board of trustees, who argued that the costly reconstruction that many say has jeopardized the finances of the campus were long overdue. “It has had the approval of the board of trustees since its inception,” she said of the reconstruction work.

Economics Professor and UMass Faculty Union President Marlene Kim addresses the UMass Board of Trustees.

Banner photo

Economics Professor and UMass Faculty Union President Marlene Kim addresses the UMass Board of Trustees.

Motley announced April 4 that he would step down at the end of the academic year after the university revealed a budget deficit estimated at $30 million for next year. UMass officials have since announced cuts and layoff they say will bring the deficit to $6.5 million. But the reductions, including the cancellation of 60 classes and layoffs of one third of the school’s janitorial staff, generated controversy during the trustee meeting.

Marlene Kim, an economics professor and faculty union president, painted a grim picture of the cuts.

“Many classes were requirements for majors,” she said. “Students are required to take courses that no longer exist. Some faculty can’t make handouts. Some can’t make photocopies. We can’t do our jobs.”

State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry spoke out against what she characterized as a long history of disregard for the university, including a construction process in the early 1970s so plagued by fraud that two state senators were sentenced to prison for extorting money from the firm supervision the build-out of the campus. She lauded Motley for his efforts to rebuild the campus.

“This is Boston’s only public research university,” she said. “As board members I need you to have the lens of what UMass Boston is and where it’s going.”

Some at the meeting commented on the juxtaposition of new buildings and reductions to courses and staff, questioning who would clean the new buildings when one-third of the custodial staff is laid off.

“The only take away from this is a clear lack of respect for the very people who make this place function,” said Janelle Quarles, president of the classified staff union. “We do not deserve to be treated this way. Mutual respect is what we deserve and what we are due.”

Tom Goodkind, a senior research machinist at the College of Science and Mathematics, told the trustees the proposed cuts will put some of the state’s most vulnerable college students at risk.

“No other Massachusetts university boasts a student population like ours,” he said. “We are 61 percent first-generation students, compared to 24 percent at UMass Amherst. We enroll 47 percent of all black and African American undergraduates in the entire UMass system, 39 percent of all Latinos, and 34 percent of all Asians, despite having only 23 percent of the system’s students. When it comes to the UMass system’s first-generation students and undergraduates of color, we are indisputably the flagship, and I hope we can agree that the system cannot afford to let our sails be trimmed.”

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni, who spoke during a rally outside the auditorium where the trustees met, said the “austerity mindset” being pushed by the UMass system runs counter to the needs of the UMass Boston community.

“I think they’ve made a mistake by going after a campus with such a deep understanding of their core mission.”