Chancellor Gora Aims High

J.P. Goodwin

“We need to stop discussing conditions and start making some decisions about how we’re going to change things and do things differently,” said University of Massachusetts Boston Chancellor Jo Ann Gora. And if a recent interview with the new chancellor is any indication, Gora’s already started making some of those decisions and contemplating some of those changes.

During a Q&A session with the Mass Media, Gora touched on a number of issues — ranging from on-campus housing, to prioritizing facilities issues, to enhancing communication between the UMass Boston administration and the entire student body.

“I’m for it [residential housing on campus]. I think it really will simply enhance the opportunities for students. I don’t see it as changing the mission of the institution. We have 13 thousand students. If we offer housing for 2,000 students that’s not going to change our mission,” explained Gora. “It would give students who want to come to UMass another opportunity.” Asked which students would get the housing, Gora said, “Initially, it’s something we would have to discuss and I would listen to the advice of different constituencies. Essentially, this would be something that students who had demonstrated the ability to succeed at the university would have made available to them, and we would want to use the housing to help attract and enlarge our Honors Program, for example. At this point I’m open to a lot of suggestions on that idea.”

The chancellor stated that she was “pledged to improving the quality of the physical space.” After noting that “we have inspiring students, we have educated faculty, we have concerned and conscientious staff, and we have a tremendous number of things to be proud of,” Gora said, “What gets in the way sometimes of telling that story is people’s concern about the facilities. … I know that it affects everyone’s morale, and it’s not any easy task here because there are a lot of structural issues. There’s a lot of complex engineering projects that may not affect the appearance of things so much that people notice them, but that need to be done. We have to attend to those kind of important structural issues while at the same time we pay attention to more mundane things like making sure the hallways are painted and the catwalks are clean and that they don’t leak, but when we fix them, nobody is going to sing “Hallelujah” because they shouldn’t have leaked in the first place.”

Told that the library was unable to buy any new circulating books last fiscal year, Gora said, “Certainly, the library needs additional support. We need to see whether we can find the funds to do that. I find that astonishing that they didn’t have the funds to buy one additional book last year. I find that astonishing. That’s incredible.” She added that she’d met with Sharon Bostick [the library director] and agreed that the library needed additional resources. “But we have to figure out where to get those resources.”

The issue of resources was a consistent theme from Gora, whether it was the library issue, parking fees, or student services.

“I know that we have significant costs. The problem is that we are under-funded. All the things we want to do, we could do tomorrow. We’re not struggling over deciding to do things, we’re struggling over how to pay for them. Give us the money, and we can address all these issues. Students don’t want an increase in fees, but they want the university to increase services. Unfortunately, it’s fees that provide the funds for these services.”

Asked about communication, or lack of communication, between the students and the UMass Boston administration, Gora stated, “I’m glad you asked that. Once the school year starts, I want to meet with all the student leadership groups. And I want to meet with simply students. I’ve met with Dean Janey to figure out ways to meet with small groups of students. I said she could come up with some sort of lottery system for lunch with the chancellor.”

She added, “The reason I want to meet with students is I want to ask them what’s their experience of UMass Boston. What are they going to tell their friends about UMass Boston? What’s the good news you’re going to tell them? What’s the bad news you’re going to tell them? What do they treasure about their experience?”

(Part 2 of the interview with Chancellor Gora will run next week.)