When UMass Amherst unexpectedly purchased the leafy campus of failing Mount Ida College in Newton last year, UMass Boston professors were furious. They feared the system flagship would eat their market share and steal away students.
Fear not, said the officials at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Their new campus would house students during internships, facilitate philanthropy with Boston donors, and allow collaboration with industry, but it would not, Amherst said, offer academic programs that directly compete with Boston.
But a year later, the campus is offering a business program strikingly similar to the one offered on the Boston campus, just 15 miles down the road. It is also offering public health courses, the type that University of Massachusetts Boston endeavored to offer a few years ago, but the effort stalled.
And so, again, UMass Boston professors are fuming.
“They’re competing head to head with us,” said Marlene Kim, a professor and president of the faculty union.
Amherst is offering a degree in Business & Analytics on the Mount Ida campus that is very similar in name to the Business Analytics degree offered at UMass Boston. Its courses are actually more similar to another UMass Boston program, the MBA with a concentration in business analytics, according to UMass Boston business professors.
Kim and others voiced these concerns earlier this month at a UMass trustees meeting in Worcester. The board referred the matter to a committee for review. President Marty Meehan’s office said it is talking with both campuses about this issue.
One UMass Boston professor, David Levy, said some of his students told him the Mount Ida campus would be a convenient location for them to take courses. And while the UMass Boston business programs have struggled for a marketing budget, advertisements for the Amherst programs at Mount Ida are plastered all over social media, he said.
“We cannot be expected to compete on an unfair playing field,” he told trustees at their meeting, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. He said the five-campus system should coordinate its graduate programs instead of competing with each other.
But Amherst officials said there is no cause for alarm. The two business programs are distinct, they said.
“These degrees are very different and they have very different audiences,” said Amherst provost John McCarthy.
McCarthy said the Amherst degree is intended for liberal arts majors who just graduated whereas the Boston degree is for business students and very technical. Amherst, which is more selective and less diverse than Boston, has also said repeatedly that its students are a different “caliber and profile” than those who attend Boston.
As for the general perception that the Amherst campus is encroaching into Boston’s backyard, McCarthy defended his university. Almost three-quarters of in-state Amherst undergraduates come from within the Interstate 495 corridor, he said.
“We are already serving Eastern Massachusetts as the Commonwealth’s flagship university. We’re not the University of Western Massachusetts, we’re the University of Massachusetts,” he said.
UMass Amherst purchased the 72-acre campus last year for $70 million from Mount Ida College as the smaller school said that financial trouble was forcing it to close. The deal was highly controversial but approved by the attorney general’s office.
The former Mount Ida veterinary tech program is still operating on the campus, and students are scheduled to graduate this spring. UMass Amherst has hired those faculty and is seeking approval to continue to offer that degree.
The campus will be used over the summer to house UMass Amherst students who intern in the Boston area. UMass Amherst also plans to hold a summer technology camp for underrepresented minority students and offer classes in community forest management as well as training for local departments of public works, McCarthy said.
This fall the campus plans to start offering courses for three other programs: statistics, geographic information science, and building and construction technology, according to its website.
The Mount Ida campus is also offering public health courses this spring. Several years ago UMass Boston tried to start a public health program, but the campus put the proposal on hold because of the school’s budget troubles.
“We can’t get our programs, but then Amherst can,” Kim said.
UMass Boston for years has seemed like the stepchild of the five-campus system. The majority-minority campus serves a largely commuter population and has struggled since its founding with infrastructure problems caused by shoddy construction. Poor leadership in recent decades resulted in its own financial trouble and factored into the 2017 ouster of longtime chancellor Keith Motley.
The campus is now run by interim chancellor Katherine Newman. It is in the process of recovering financially and has opened its first-ever residence halls.
In a statement, a spokesman for the Boston campus said it believes duplication with other parts of the system is counterproductive. The campus supports a plan by the central office to review Mount Ida programs to avoid duplication, he said.
“UMass Boston can compete successfully with any other academic institution, and our foothold in our native city is unparalleled,” wrote spokesman DeWayne Lehman.
A call to trustee chairman Rob Manning was not returned.