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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass history through changes and challenges

“Fifty years ago, the University of Massachusetts Boston was all promise and prospect, but when it opened in the former gas company building in Park Square during the fall of 1965, workmen were still hammering classrooms into shape, even as we met for our first classes,” remembers Shaun O’Connell, Professor of English at UMass Boston, in a memoir celebrating the 50th anniversary of UMass Boston.

The young faculty and students were told they were part of a hard-hat university. Both were adamant and proud of their institution at 100 Arlington Street, and the construction did not deter students, O’Connell explained.

“The clangs and screams from the Trojan War we discussed in Homer’s Iliad served as proper counterpoint to the sounds of handsaws and drills, as workers shouted at each other while classroom walls went up around us.” said O’Connell.

The construction of the new Integrated Sciences Complex, a two-way road system, and of the General Academic Building are the perfect embodiment of UMass Boston’s past and promising future.

O’Connell concurs, “Our elegant Campus Center stands as an emblem of UMB’s enduring vitality, [and of] its tenacious capacity; despite setbacks to rebuild and to renew itself.”

In the beginning, UMass Boston had to endure budgetary and structural crises to make it what it is today. For nine years the university was at the hub of Boston. It gained land on Columbus Avenue and bought the Armory for its library. Students held classes in the Garden, ate at local diners, frequented local bars, marched for civil rights and rallied against the war in Vietnam. Many of the faculty were the first in their families to attend higher education institutions.

O’Connell reminisced, “So much has changed since those Park Square days, but the university’s respect for and dedication to its wonderful students has not. That is why I am still here, 50 years on.”

The students fought against the relocation to Columbia Point, which was a former waste dump and directly below the flight path to Logan Airport. The construction of brick buildings, connected by a walkway, and an underground parking garage was a drastic change for students and faculty of the former campus in Boston. However, as UMass Boston’s student body and faculty population grew, budgets faltered.

“When we reached a point of equilibrium, the bricks started falling from the Library, the underground garage began crumbling and the budgets dropped alarmingly. Park Square veterans searched their closets for those hard hats,” stated O’Connell.

UMass Boston then began rising in popularity as an ideal urban university. When veteran faculty members began to retire, the university was able to hire new faculty members transforming departments, like O’Connell’s English department, into innovative, tight-knit communities.

“Then the Student Center opened: a marvelous building of soaring spaces with high windows open to the sky, the harbor and the fine neighbors–the JFK library, the Massachusetts State Archives and the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate”, said O’Connell.

UMass Boston has remained dedicated to its commitment to teaching, and to preserve the university’s unique landscape.

On one last note O’Connell added, “Under the stable and secure administration of Chancellors Michael Collins and J. Keith Motley, with the original buildings repaired and retrofitted, with plans for even more buildings and an extensive campus redesign, UMass Boston will gain the dignity and beauty it once lacked, though its energetic and creative commitment to teaching, service and scholarship has never faltered. I am honored to have been a part of UMB’s dramatic and determined past and I am eager to see what UMB will make of itself.”