Metro

UMass Boston budget cuts target academic research centers

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
The University of Massachusetts Boston campus.

Leaders of several academic research centers at the University of Massachusetts Boston are furious with the school after it announced that they would see their budgets slashed as part of an attempt to lessen the school’s deficit.

On the chopping block is one center that helps veterans and another that studies Latino communities in Massachusetts, as well as others.

“We are all demoralized. We feel devalued in our service to veterans,” said Thomas Kane, director of the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences, one of 17 centers that are being cut.

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The centers learned about the cuts in a memo sent on March 26 by interim chancellor Barry Mills, who is running the university and managing its deficit while the campus searches for a permanent leader. The original budget gap was $30 million, but other cuts, including layoffs and a hiring freeze, have shrunk it significantly.

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According to the memo, university administrators surveyed the 30 centers and institutes at the university and determined that 17 were not self-sufficient, and combined to produce a deficit of $5 million in fiscal 2017.

The memo said the university will cut the funding for the centers and institutes that have required the largest university subsidies. The university has asked them to replace that funding with private fund-raising, grants, and contracts.

“As the leaders of our centers and institutes will rightly note, they are doing important work — and important work finds funding and a future,” Mills wrote. Asked for a comment for this article, Mills was not available, said university spokesman DeWayne Lehman.

The other centers set to have their funding cut include the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, the Institute for New England Native American Studies, the Labor Resource Center, and the Center for Social Policy.

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The cuts will save up to $1.5 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, the memo said. Administrators plan to continue to reduce the $5 million subsidy over the next three years, it said, adding that the university will help the centers become self-sufficient.

Center directors called the university’s approach heavy-handed and unnecessary because the centers cost the university a small amount compared with its $430 million operating budget. The cuts have also drawn the attention of some elected officials.

“This is really shortsighted,” said state Representative Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat. “They think they can just do this under the radar, and it’s at the expense of our veterans.”

Decker, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, said she has asked to speak with UMass officials and is also talking with other legislators.

In the past, some centers at UMass Boston had specific earmarks in the state budget, but those were eliminated about a decade ago, and they now rely on the university for funding each year.

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The Joiner Institute provides free counseling to students who are veterans and also provides services in the community, including a program for high school teachers on how to teach about war and veterans. The center also conducts academic research about veterans, Kane said, and is working on a project with refugees in Iraq.

‘They don’t even know what we do. They don’t know what we’re about.’

— Thomas Kane, director of a UMass institute that helps provide services to military veterans 

“The need is very great, our voices are being ignored, and they’re not valuing what we bring to the university total educational experience,” said Kane, the director.

Kane is especially frustrated because he learned that UMass plans to redirect $200,000 that funds the institute toward scholarships for veterans, but he said no one consulted with the institute about that plan before announcing it.

“They don’t even know what we do. They don’t know what we’re about,” he said.

According to UMass, the Joiner Institute has a $400,000 deficit this year, down from around $540,000 last year. But Kane said what the university calls a “deficit” is actually just the money it costs to pay the staff who run the institute.

The Joiner Institute started the academic year with 5½ university-funded staff positions, he said. Now it has just three part-timers after two people took buyouts, another left, and another retired.

News about the program also troubled William Joiner III, the son of the man for whom the institute is named. Joiner, a high school teacher in Newton, recalled how his father became the first director of veterans affairs at UMass Boston 30 years ago. He said he wants the Joiner Institute’s funding restored. The cost is tiny compared with the services it provides, he said.

“The work the Joiner continues to do, you can’t put a price on it,” he said.

Another center facing cuts is the Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy.

Its director, professor Lorna Rivera, said the university is framing the issue incorrectly. It is not the centers that have landed the school in a deficit, she said. It is the massive construction projects that have cost tens of millions of dollars more than anticipated.

The Gaston Institute has an annual budget of about $230,000, she said, most of which pays for its three staff members. The operating budget is around $25,000, she said. The institute provides opportunities for students and faculty and also produces research about Latino communities in New England, she said.

“Not only will students lose out and faculty, but the general public will not have the kind of data that is needed for policy-making,” she said.

Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.