Students, faculty protest UMass Boston budget cuts
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Students and faculty at UMass Boston interrupted a trustees meeting Wednesday, protesting canceled classes and faculty layoffs that have come as the campus struggles to close a budget gap.
Their handmade signs said "Chop from the top," a reference to what some call a bloated campus administration, and "Nice building . . . where are the teachers???" — referring to construction projects on campus that have added to the budget pressure.
Several students as well as leaders of the faculty and staff unions urged the trustees not to penalize University of Massachusetts Boston students, many of whom are low-income, first-generation, and minority, as they try to balance the budget.
Wednesday marked the first full meeting of the Board of Trustees since UMass Boston's longtime chancellor, J. Keith Motley, announced last week that he would resign. It followed a day of subcommittee meetings on Tuesday and featured Motley giving an emotional speech in which he defended his decade as a leader.
The Boston campus faces a budget gap once estimated as high as $30 million. Motley resigned amid a cloud of questions about who is responsible for the ballooning deficit, overdue construction projects, and declines in student enrollment and fund-raising.
Janelle Quarles, president of the campus's Classified Staff Union, told the board that university employees feel disrespected because they are not able to get straight answers from administrators about the budget situation or impending cuts.
"Faculty, staff, and students have had to sift through countless rumors about the UMB budget deficit in order to piece together facts, and then try and figure out what the deficit means for our future as a community and how that affects our urban mission," Quarles told the board.
Many pointed fingers at the trustees, saying they should have provided better oversight of the problems, and done so sooner.
Others urged the trustees to look to the state for more funding, especially for building projects necessitated by shoddy construction work done during the 1970s.
After the meeting, chairman Robert Manning defended the board. He said that trustees regularly review campus budgets and capital projects and get incremental progress reports.
"We don't run the university campuses," Manning said.
"The chancellors are the CEOs of each campus. They're held accountable for the budgets, and they need to course- correct and make decisions on the campus to keep the budget in line that the board approves, and when there are issues, you resolve them."
During the meeting, students and faculty chanted "No cuts! No hikes! Education is a right!" and "No cuts! No hikes! We'll keep fighting for what's right!"
"Public higher ed needs public $$," one sign said.
"Don't balance the budget on our backs," another said.
After a few minutes, the several dozen protesters left the meeting and proceeded downstairs in the campus center, one of the gleaming new buildings, to hold a larger rally.
At Tuesday's meetings, university system officials had said that they believe they can shrink this year's deficit to $6 million or $7 million, but because it is a structural deficit, more fixes will be needed in the years to come to prevent the same gap from opening up every year.
In February, the UMass system's president, Martin T. Meehan, installed former Bowdoin College president Barry Mills on the Boston campus as deputy chancellor to help fix the financial problems. A new chief financial officer was also hired.
At Tuesday's meetings, Mills had described systemic, long-term budgeting problems he has found on campus, in addition to construction cost overruns, and declining enrollments and philanthropy.
On Wednesday, many speakers praised Motley for his inspirational leadership, including Democratic state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, whose district includes UMass Boston. She took issue with the way that some have characterized the school as something like a community college.
"This is no community college," she said. "This is Boston's only public research university."
The senator concluded her remarks by asking the board not to accept Motley's resignation. Trustees and Meehan have given no indication they will reject it, and a separation agreement has already been signed.