Dateline: Downtown: Hard Times

Dan Roche

Earlier this semester, in October, Chancellor Motley gave what, for many UMass Boston students, may be the most important address he will give this academic year. It was his response to the recent budget cuts (occasioned by the outgoing former Governor Romney), and what it meant was that the University administration has made a sort of “no new taxes” pledge to us that is good the balance of the year. That is, assuming that the state legislature doesn’t step in and ask that the University incur further cuts.

Motley, taking a cue from his boss, UMass President Jack Wilson, said that pressure of the system-wide budget cuts will be managed so that there is no increase in mandatory fees for the students. There will not be an increase in this present academic year: next year, watch out. The ignorant maniacs at The University Reporter quoted Motley in saying that “It is our intention here at the University of Massachusetts Boston to address 50 percent of this reduction through the use of reserve and trust funds.” Austerities imposed on the school’s operating budget will be met with a combination of widespread frugality and by judicious dipping into the school’s trust fund. The reaction to state budget cuts will come more by way of belt tightening (“Can we have fewer lunches?” “What is the impact of having buildings that are not quite as warm in the winter and not quite as cool in the summer?”) and by dipping into the school’s trust fund, which UMB Director of Communications DeWayne Lehman estimates to be about $35 million dollars, or about six weeks of the school’s operating budget (midwinter, nighttime Campus Center air conditioning or no).

“The crisis of the hour should not signal for you the undoing of our grand vision. Rather, see it as a testing of our mettle, a proving out of our resolve,” said Motley in October. I rather like this frame. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression; if they can survive that and World War II, I can survive wearing my coat in class. I’m very willing to do without niceties and amenities such as free planners at the beginning of the semester or the occasional lunch, and I think many of my fellows feel likewise, particularly if it means that tuition and fees remain stable. Sacrificing faculty while increasing the expenses incurred by the student body should be the last gasp. I worry that this may not always be reflected by the administration: “in [the fiscal year 2008] the campus moved forward with additional resources resulting from […] a modest 3.4% increase in mandatory fee for resident undergraduates.” My operations fee for the Spring of 2008 was $3258.50. 3.4% of that is $110, which may turn into $125 by the time I am finished paying off my student loans with interest. I do not begrudge this money, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t start to if these increases became a pattern. It is frustrating that one’s debts always keep up with inflation, but rarely one’s personal income. That is not the school’s fault.

The reason our school is in a deficit is not due to mismanagement, but greater economic realities having to do with the state, which imposed the cuts. Chapter 29, Section 9C of the Massachusetts Constitution relates to revenue deficiencies, and what steps the Governor can take to balance the state budget when the money coming into the state is not equal to expenditures. When the Legislature decides that the state needs more money, it imposes budget cuts on state agencies such as the University. An October 15th memorandum from UMass President Jack Wilson’s office says, “Assuming there are no additional 9C cuts, the University will not request mid-year fee increases, nor will it make cuts to student financial aid”

Doing an excellent job is a matter of doing a very good job day in and day out, consistently. Moments of brilliance are just those – moments – and excellence requires a sustained effort. A difficult current economic climate may be an imposing obstacle to overcome, but in order to succeed in our plans as a school we should know that sometimes we have to do a good job whether or not we have good funding.

(If anyone in the administration should be reading, I would like to say that one way to save at least some shekels is to not air condition rooms during the winter at night, anywhere. The air conditioning next to my desk on the third floor of the Campus Center, toward the end of the Student Life area, has been blasting continuously all semester. Does this make sense?)