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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dear Mass Media

Dear Mass Media,

Two issues back, in his regular op-ed column, my esteemed friend and editor Dan Roche may have slightly misapprehended the main theses of a column I wrote last spring expressing my misgivings about the idea of building dorms at UMB. So I thought I should issue this corrective.

My big concerns about the dorms at the time were that: a) students were the target of a transparent pro-dorm propaganda campaign by the UMB administration, and b) I found that more than a little suspicious considering there had been no clamor from UMB students for dorms prior to the campaign. Although it’s certainly true that I was only hearing support for dorms from suburban students, as Dan mentioned. And similar to his stated position, I have previously indicated strong support for allowing dorms if they are solely devoted year-round to serving students in financial hardship-especially single mothers on welfare.

However, in the context of the political economy of public higher education in Massachusetts, my overriding concern has always been that relatively cheap public colleges that have educated a couple of generations of Commonwealth residents are now being set up to fail.

In keeping with the “go-go capitalist” neoliberal ideology of the time, UMB and public schools like it are being made (“allowed”) to raise their own operating funds directly from students rather than receiving sufficient operating funds from the public tax base and providing higher education at little or no cost to students as had once been the traditional arrangement in much of the U.S. It is now considered to be part of the learning experience, and a mark of each student’s “acceptance of personal responsibility,” to be put in debt up to our collective gills for the privilege of potentially making a few thousand more a year than we did before getting our shiny new degrees.

The acceptance of this ideology by our state government, Board of Trustees, and UMass President’s Office means that the UMB administration must find money from wherever it can–as long as it is not public money. This has led to the huge rise in tuition and fees in the last decade, and the sad spectacle of public university administrators tailing after corporate crumbs from Harvard and MIT’s table.

But one important cash-stream they have not been able to tap is dorms. The administration preemptively defends itself against charges that dorms will be cash cows by claiming a) that the dorms are needed because students want them (pointing to the unscientific poll they ran last year), b) that having dorms will allow them to add housing to student financial aid packages and thus will help poor and working students, and c) that having dorms will enliven the campus experience.

Even if all these things were true, which I do not believe, they do not change the fact that there is a key economic reason for having dorms that the administration never mentions as a possibility. . .once they have dorms, they can recruit larger numbers of out-of-state students who will pay more than double what in-state students pay in tuition and fees-and pay to live in the dorms. They can also rent out the dorms for various purposes during school breaks, which will provide another, though probably less significant, revenue stream.

Meanwhile, tuition and fees are slated to keep going up and up, and given the new downturn in the economy, the tax base will only be going concurrently down and down. So who do you all think is going to lose in this Brave New UMB? All PR and public posturing aside.

In sum total, these developments are gradually pricing much of UMB’s traditional student body out of an education and will go a long way toward converting a largely working-class university of color to a largely white middle-class university. Which will serve a younger, more affluent, and more suburban population than it does now. Making it basically a clone of most colleges in America. And driving a stake through the heart of a UMB “Urban Mission” that’s already on life support.

To those who ask “why don’t you just trust the administration?” I say how could I possibly trust them when both the Collins and the Motley administrations have presided over the destruction of the College of Public and Community Service, when recent developments in the McCormack School are moving in a similar (though not yet as serious) direction, and when a bunch of unrepresentative unelected anti-student pro-business zealots are in complete control of the UMass Board of Trustees while their allies run the UMass system?

Education as a privilege over education as a right. Profits over people. Bureaucracy over democracy. Excelsior! Great way to run a public university. Into the ground.

-Jason Pramas