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UMB community says ‘no’ to Mount Ida

Students: School’s mission is changing

Karen Morales
UMB community says ‘no’ to Mount Ida
UMass Boston students, faculty and staff flood Interim Chancellor Barry Mills’ office to deliver petitions. Photo: Scott McLennan

UMass Boston students, faculty and staff at a community meeting last week expressed anger toward the UMass Board of Trustees for approving the purchase of the Mount Ida campus in a closed-door vote while the Boston campus is continuously hit with budget cuts and increased student fees.

City Councilor Frank Baker and state Rep. Dan Hunt also attended the meeting last Wednesday at the UMass Boston Campus Center, where members of the school community rallied and organized to protest the changes happening at the Boston campus, as well as the UMass system at large.

In an effort to tackle a $30 million structural budget deficit at the Boston campus linked to construction and renovation projects, the trustees voted in 2016 to increase tuition rates by 5.8 percent, laid off over 30 staff members in 2017 and most recently, cut budgets for several of the campus research and cultural centers and increased parking fees.

“The students we serve, first generation, working class, majority students of color, cannot pay the debt on our public buildings,” said Tom Goodkind, president of the UMass Boston Professional Staff Union at last Wednesday’s meeting.

“This was done behind our backs and in our own backyard,” said Goodkind about the Mount Ida deal. “A board of businessmen decides our future.”

Marlene Kim, economics professor and president of the school’s Faculty Staff Union said, “The purchase of Mount Ida shows starkly what’s wrong with the system when one school can have two campuses and we cannot have even one.”

“Putting another campus in the vicinity of Boston makes it harder for our working-class majority-minority students to compete for jobs, internships and money,” said Katie Mitrano, president of the UMass Boston undergraduate student body.

Facing its own debt crisis, Mount Ida school officials suddenly announced on April 6 that the school will be closing in May. Shortly after, UMass Amherst officials said that they struck a deal to purchase the Newton campus through loan financing.

Mount Ida students in good standing will be automatically offered admission to UMass Dartmouth or have the opportunity to transfer to any of the UMass system schools.

In a statement, UMass President Martin Meehan addressed the issue.

“UMass Amherst’s capacity to borrow these funds is wholly unrelated to UMass Boston’s capacity to borrow or fund its priorities,” his statement reads. “Under the leadership of Chancellor Mills, UMass Boston is on a path to financial stability, which will be aided by a similar strategic investment at the former Bayside Expo Center site, from which millions in new revenue will be earmarked for UMass Boston.”

Legislators and state leaders such as Attorney General Maura Healey and Senate President Harriette Chandler have expressed their concern to the press, calling for the deal to be further examined.

Rep. Nick Collins also responded to the issue by filing two amendments to House Bill 4400; the first requires the UMass system to fund UMass Boston’s centers and institutes at the same level as last year plus add $2.1 million in funding, and the second adds $3 million to the school budget to prevent further cuts.

“UMass Boston is an important resource for all of Boston and the region,” Collins said in a press release statement. “We have made significant investments in UMass Boston and need to ensure that the promises we make are kept to the students and faculty there.”

Isaiah Johnson, a freshman history major at UMass Boston told the Banner that the administration’s priorities do not align with the needs of the current student population.

“They can make dorms for out-of-state students to boost their income, but they have to increase parking fees for working-class, commuting students,” he said, referring to the school’s new 1,085-bed residence hall set to open in fall 2018.

“It’s not a matter of not having enough money, it’s a matter of where you’re placing the value,” he said.