Student testimony to the Nov 29, 2017 UMass Board of Trustees meeting
Good morning President Meehan, Chairman Manning, and members of the board. I’d like to thank you for letting me speak to you today on behalf of UMass Boston. My name is Maddi Walker and I’m a sophomore at UMB. I have a history of service in the UMass Boston community, I’ve worked with nonprofits on campus, with the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, and with the UAccess food pantry, however, despite my service, my near perfect GPA, and my passion for the UMB community I lost the majority of my financial aid for the 2017-2018 school year. I was eager to return to campus this year and spend my time improving my community, and instead I found myself working two jobs in an attempt to pay for a substantially more expensive education. My story isn’t unique: the narrative of UMass Boston is becoming a narrative of lost opportunities.
Quality schools don’t just provide an education, they provide a community, but the sense of community at UMB is quickly becoming tainted by the anxiety and insecurity of faculty and students in the face of these budget cuts. Students are expected to be academically successful, but are provided none of the tools. Readings are no longer printed by teachers, so students must pay out of pocket to print their homework. Class sizes are growing, but we’re expected to make the same connections and receive the same attention from our professors. Individuals in the College of Math and Science have to compete with the 1,200 other students their advisor is responsible for in order to make an appointment. Of the handful of students I got know personally through my activism on campus I can name at least five that have already transferred, and many more who are considering the option. They are all dedicated, intelligent individuals who are passionate about their community and UMB will be worse off without them.
As the trustees for the UMass System, your decisions hold huge weight on the UMB campus; please don’t choose politics over this community of hard-working individuals that you have been given the honor of serving. UMB is unique in the UMass system in terms of race and class dynamics, as well as in it’s status as a commuter school, but that is not being displayed in board decisions. Please recognize that UMB is not a private institution, it doesn’t serve the demographics private institutions serve, and it cannot be run like one. I urge that you consider our request to release 5 million dollars of the unrestricted funds that the UMass central office has at their disposal. With those funds at UMB’s disposal, and the board and the UMass community working together, we can find alternate means of closing the deficit gap without gutting UMB’s urban mission, and ruining the school’s ability to work with non-traditional students. Now I ask you, will you transfer 5 million dollars from the Central Office’s unrestricted reserves so that we can maintain a well-functioning 4-year public research university that provides a safe, productive community for its students and faculty?
Juan Pablo Blanco
Good morning President Meehan, Chairman Manning, and members of the board, I want to thank you for letting me speak to you today about the situation we are facing at UMass Boston. My name is Juan Pablo Blanco I am both a graduate of UMB and a currently a graduate student. I am a first generation college student, an immigrant, and a former undocumented person. I have worked full time throughout my education and took 12 long years to finish my undergraduate studies due to my immigration status. In many ways I embody a lot of what our urban mission entails. My story is reflected by a large number of our students at UMB, so I am not an anomaly. We, and our stories, are this university.
Even with my near perfect GPA, high recommendations, awards and prizes, my decision to continue my education came down to whether or not I would be able to afford it. The program I chose is a program that allows me to pursue research that will hopeful help and empower immigrant communities like the one I came from. However, the austerity measures that continue to attack UMass Boston are putting both my future as a student and programs like mine in jeopardy. I am lucky enough to have a graduate assistantship so that I am able to afford the cost of graduate school, but I know many of peers were not so lucky. I also do not know how long this opportunity will last and neither does my program, and I have to live with the anxiety of not having the means to continue if this assistantship is cut. My education is being left to chance, and while I might get lucky, I know many of us will not and will have to either sacrifice the quality of their education by having to work even more than we already do or will have to stop or stall their studies altogether. Our students are being forced to aspire for academic excellence and global impact while operating behind this veil of uncertainty, anxiety and insecurity.
My peers and I are being forced to pay for the mistakes and shortcomings of those that came before us. One cannot blame the current state of our institution merely on mismanagement while ignoring the historical issues that have gotten us here. From shoddy and illegal construction practices all the way to the treatment of our institution as if it had the same barriers as other schools knowing the unique demographic and socio-economic makeup of our student body. What troubles me is that a lot of the decisions that got us to where we are were decisions made directly or approved by the board of trustees. Just as we are made to pay for the mistakes of those that came before us, I implore you to do the same.
We need you to use $5 million of the unrestricted UMass Central Office funds to buy us the necessary time to find other means of closing the deficit gap. This is a 40-year problem, and we need a long-term, intentional plan to solve that problem. Potential revenue from the Bayside Property, the legislative push against state underfunding, and measures like the Fair Share Amendment, which to my understanding you have yet to publicly endorse AND are members of the Mass High Tech Council that is suing to take this decision away from voters, can help us move towards a stable, thriving UMass Boston. But $5 million won’t solve the problem, the Fair Share Amendment is still just a first step, and cutting 40 jobs just makes the problem worse. We can’t move forward by destroying our university and what it stands for with more staff layoffs, threats to our academic programs, or further disenfranchisement of those of us that needs a place like UMass Boston the most. All we need is more time, and you have the power to make that happen.