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The Boston Globe

Opinion

robert l. caret

More private dollars for UMass

The Legislature will soon make an important decision about funding for the University of Massachusetts, determining what kind of university UMass will be as it enters the next phase of its history.

The Legislature will decide whether UMass will receive $479 million proposed by Governor Patrick and approved by the House or $455 million advanced by the Senate. The higher level would arrest a prolonged budget slide, make the university’s funding model more equitable, and allow us to freeze tuition and fees.

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The commitment we are asking the state to make is part of a larger effort to dramatically strengthen UMass and make sure that it will be the kind of public university an intellectual-horsepower state like Massachusetts truly needs.

As we ask the Commonwealth to do more, UMass is also gearing up to do significantly more to strengthen its financial foundation in order to attract and retain top professors, maintain affordability, and ensure that our facilities match our academic and research ambitions. Thus, UMass this fall will launch its first system-wide capital campaign — with the goal of dramatically increasing the private funds flowing into the university.

Taken in tandem, a major infusion of public and private funds will give UMass the financial muscle it needs as it completes its first 150 years of service and prepares to make an even more profound contribution to the Commonwealth.

As I complete my second year as UMass president, I am struck by one thing above all else — how much our campuses have done with such limited resources.

Over the past 15 years, while state funding has remained flat, UMass has added 13,000 students (most of whom come from and will remain in Massachusetts), seen student achievement rise to the point where the Amherst campus is now a top producer of Fulbright scholars, won a Nobel Prize, seen annual research expenditures reach $600 million, and consistently placed in the upper reaches of the World University Rankings.

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All of which prompts two questions: Shouldn’t we protect the great asset we have developed? And how much more could we do with a little more public and a lot more private support?

While we work to gather the resources we need to make this a transformational moment, I realize that we need to keep front and center a value that is so much a part of our New England heritage — and that is frugality.

Respect for a dollar is something I learned growing up in a Maine town where people eked out a living in mills and on fishing boats and where scrimping and saving was a way of life.

Over the past five years, UMass has saved $68 million through efficiency steps, including the consolidation of administrative functions that were previously performed on each of the campuses. We expect to save another $123 million over the next five years by reducing energy expenditures and by improving purchasing practices and information technology operations.

Our commitment to transparency mirrors our commitment to efficiency, and, to make it easier to gauge our performance, we will release an annual report giving donors, public officials, and the public at large a better sense of how we are doing and what their dollars are building.

UMass marks its 150th anniversary this year and thus this is a time to celebrate the past — and work to build a brighter and loftier future. We have a chance to place UMass on a course that will allow it to soar. Let’s seize this defining moment.

Robert L. Caret is president of the University of Massachusetts.

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