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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMass Boston must embrace what it truly is

Students+getting+off+JFK%2FUMass+station.+Photo+by+Colin+Tsuboi+%28He%2FHim%29+%2F+Mass+Media+Staff.

Students getting off JFK/UMass station. Photo by Colin Tsuboi (He/Him) / Mass Media Staff.

If there’s one thing I just don’t understand about UMass Boston, it’s the university’s crisis of identity. We try to act like a traditional research university, yet we just don’t match up. In a way, this seems like a lingering grudge from the days when we were renting out buildings in downtown Boston, only to be cast to the outskirts to build a cloistered little enclave on top of a garbage dump [1].
Let’s be real here, UMass Boston is a relatively affordable commuter school, effectively outside of Boston proper, with a large contingent of non-traditional students—students who are older, who speak English as a second language or who work at or nearly full-time [2]. We are not Boston University. We are not UMass Amherst. And I can’t believe that I actually have to say this—but apparently I do—we sure as hell aren’t Harvard.
The sooner we accept this, the better. This is not something we have to resign ourselves to—it is something we ought to embrace. UMass Boston fills an important role as a reasonably large, relatively affordable, commutable public research university. It is accessible to students of so many different backgrounds in a way that most other large research universities in Boston are not.
Our administration doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on this fact. They make decisions as if, and act like, we’re UMass Amherst or Boston University, and this attitude trickles down to faculty and even beyond. I’ve known of at least two people—one outside of UMass Boston and one faculty member—who have actually compared various student organizations here to Harvard.
I think this stems from an ongoing effort on behalf of the administration to transform our university, forcing it into an identity crisis. Building the residence halls was the biggest example of this in recent memory.
While I totally empathize with those who find it much easier and more convenient to live on campus, UMass Boston has been without student residences for over 50 years [3]. While I understand that being the only Tier One university without a single residence hall practically demanded the campus of dorms [4], we effectively only offer rooms to first-year students anyway [4].
So, building residence halls alone may have had some relatively balanced pros and cons—cons which were largely offset by the construction of West Parking Garage [5]. The subsequent increase in parking fees to make up for the dorms and the new parking was just horrible [5].
Here we have a commuter school squeezing more money out of its commuters, in part because of new on-campus housing. Now, I know what you’re saying, “But James, shouldn’t we be discouraging driving?”
Yes, we should. But there are two caveats to this. One, cars are an unavoidable reality at commuter campuses, especially when T service is abysmal. Two, the University should be actively encouraging public transportation at the same time, and they’re not.
Did you know that every student used to have access to the heavily discounted Semester Pass, no matter what [6]? Nowadays, passes must be claimed by Sept. 1, and boast a measly 11 percent discount [9]. I’ve also never heard of our administration lobbying for better public transportation—in fact, they’ve actively shilled for the Dorchester Bay City project, which is only going to make the public transportation situation worse [7,8].
In moving onto the faculty side of things, I want to be careful. See, the upper administration is where the buck stops—I have no problem placing ultimate responsibility on them. However, the faculty are regular workers just like you or I, and they often have little to do at all with the larger moves of the administration. Teaching faculty are prime among this group; most of them are simply focused on giving us a great education.
Like I said before, the attitude that is put out by the upper administration trickles down. I have heard from the leaders of many different student organizations that their direct reports often gauge their progress and accomplishments against totally incomparable schools. I’ve already mentioned that comparisons to Harvard have been made multiple times in the past; even our professors notice this, as I have recently discovered.
The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot live up to the expectations placed on other universities. The vast, vast majority of us don’t live here, and so many of us are simply unable to devote time to extracurricular activities on campus.
It’s incredible to me that I have to explain why we can’t be compared to Harvard, and honestly, I’m not going to. Whoever is doing so needs to do a little critical thinking for themselves on that one.
We’re not UMass Amherst either, or even UMass Dartmouth. We are unique, we are extremely diverse—in the broadest sense of that term—and we must embrace that. We need to focus on growing as an affordable commuter school that upholds a good quality of education and engages in community-betterment work and research. That’s it. Everything else is ancillary.
Yes, I’ve repeatedly advocated for improvement of campus life. But the way to do that isn’t for the administration to pour money and effort into revamping how student organizations work, heavily supervising them and “renovating” their spaces.
I have learned that the clubs and student organizations used to be very active until COVID-19 turned everything upside down. They haven’t bounced back since the worst of COVID-19 passed, and I really believe it is primarily due to meddling from the administration. So, the solution is to leave us the hell alone; stop placing ridiculous restrictions on how we run things and focus on what I said above.
Here’s the bottom line: UMass Boston has a chance to be the best at what it is. It can only do so if we stop comparing our university to Boston University, UMass Amherst or Harvard. We must develop our uniqueness if we want to serve our students as best we can.
[1]https://www.umb.edu/the_university/history/roots
[2]https://www.umb.edu/academics/vpass/career_services/employers/about_our_students
[3]https://www.umb.edu/news/detail/umass_boston_cuts_ribbon_on_first_residence_halls
[4]https://www.umb.edu/housing/on_campus
[5]http://www.umassmedia.com/news/parking-fee-increase/article_3e1fe588-2a4d-11e8-9f72-63122b1db53c.html
[6]https://www.umassmedia.com/opinions/umass-boston-parking-prices-are-out-of-control/article_14f78b5e-45c1-11ed-ba63-53daab73acc0.html
[7]https://www.umassmedia.com/opinions/dorchester-bay-city-is-a-harmful-mistake/article_c1f2879a-9e4b-11ed-ae9a-b3146b556bcf.html
[8]https://www.umassmedia.com/opinions/dorchester-bay-city-from-the-staff-and-faculty-perspective/article_cd36c39a-9dca-11ed-aad4-e7e6b382617c.html
[9]https://www.umb.edu/the_university/getting_here/mbta_1#pass_info

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor