UMass Boston is in the news again, this time because of challenges at its new dorms. And last week, the Globe wrote a commendable editorial describing the sad history of the campus’s original physical plant, and how debt service from its repair and replacement is, in the words of Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman, “weighing its budget down.” The Globe goes on to say that the cost of this original sin in campus construction should be addressed by Governor Charlie Baker and the Legislature now. I agree.
But there is a second reason outside resources must be found to give UMass Boston support to pursue its unique mission in our system of public higher education. The school leads the way in addressing three urgent domestic challenges — diversity, the role of immigrants, and income inequality.
UMass Boston’s undergraduate student body has a higher percentage of minorities, immigrants, and women than any of the other University of Massachusetts campuses. These students come from lower-income families, receive more financial aid, and graduate with less debt than those from the other campuses. Serving this student body is UMass Boston’s special mission. Here are the numbers:
This kind of public service costs real money. This does not include UMass Boston’s 30 PhD and 56 Masters programs — whose students are also significantly more diverse than those in similar programs on the other campuses.
Yet state aid for the UMass campuses is distributed on a formula that seems to favor other factors, with no adjustment for the demographics of the student body. For example, in FY16, UMass Amherst had 52 percent of the state aid to the non-medical school campuses, but 44 percent of full time equivalent students.
On the other hand, UMass Boston had 19 percent of the state aid, but had 21 percent of the students. In light of that, shouldn’t the state aid distribution formula be reconsidered?
But there are other critical variables to consider, such as PhD programs and other performance measures. But redistributing the existing pie of available state resources is politically challenging. UMass Boston must articulate and sell its great story of public service.
And it must “monetize the mission.” The virtue of our diverse student body and inclusive educational model must be understood and appreciated locally and nationally. Regional businesses should have pipelines to our students as interns, summer workers, and full-time employees. Local philanthropy should be supporting our mission. And we must be smart enough and strong enough to find new public resources — from the state and perhaps from the city and federal governments as well — to sustain UMass Boston in this critical role.
Chancellor Newman is clearly committed to accomplishing these goals, but she cannot do it alone. She needs all of the campus factions and constituents to coalesce behind a commitment to the common good which transcends parochial interests, and the comfort of preconceived convictions. This happens when faculty and staff are treated with candor and respect, and when the remedial and transformational initiatives are transparent and honestly participatory.
As the Globe editorial made clear, the challenges at UMass Boston are real. But the building blocks for a great future are also real: an aggressive new chancellor, an inspirational student body, a distinguished and dedicated faculty, a stunning location, a long-term asset in the former Bayside Expo Center, a renewed physical plant, and an accessible and affordable education. Campus leaders supported by the leadership of the UMass system, can and must find the resources to enable UMass Boston to continue to fulfill its unique role — empowering a diverse student body to reach its full potential.Stephen P. Crosby was founding dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston from 2006 to 20012.