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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

Editorial: CPCS? What’s that?

This is a question many members of the UMB community ask themselves when they see news reports and hear on-campus chatter regarding the controversy surrounding the College of Public and Community Service. To members of the CPCS community, the answer is direct and personal. The 900-student College is where they’ve spent their academic careers. It’s the school that allows them to finish college by turning life experience into demonstrations of prior learning, among other forms of alternative learning. It’s where they’ve built relationships with other students, local community leaders, at-risk youth, and other Boston residents. Before last year, CPCS students had been well aware of their school’s purpose, its success stories, and its role as a vital part of the University’s urban mission.

So why at this critical point in the college’s history-a point many see as a struggle for the very survival of the college itself-does much of the UMass Boston community still asks itself such basic questions as “What is CPCS?” and “What do they do over there?” If the CPCS situation is as desperate as the CPCS Student Union and the faculty who twice voted ‘no confidence’ in Dean Awotona claim, then the college needs a strong wave of public support now more then ever. Unfortunately, it appears that simply requesting that we join their battle to “Save CPCS!” (as their large red buttons read) isn’t enough. It seems that the autonomy that CPCS has so long enjoyed is a double-edged sword.

As outsiders, many of us just don’t understand why CPCS is valuable to the rest of the campus or why it should be “saved.” On the other hand, none of us has seen the information which justifies the Administration’s large cut of faculty and classes the day before the beginning of the Fall semester. How are the students of UMB to know whether this is simply another internal power struggle? Students are lost in the middle.

If CPCS has a difficult time articulating its value, role, and methods to the rest of UMass, how can it accomplish this with the next generation of potential students? The College’s declining admission over the last decade are at the center of this debate, leading us to the inevitable question: who bears responsibility for the College’s low profile and low numbers? Is it the nature of the program, inefficient use of resources, or faulty leadership?

Both Chancellor Collins and Provost Fonteyn have expressed support for the College, if not its current structure. However, both say no attempt exists to destroy CPCS or to remove its competency-based curriculum. Both have publicly criticized CPCS faculty for what they characterize as relentless hostility and personal attacks on the Dean and maintain that Awotona’s actions have been taken to improve the structure of CPCS.

It’s a question of actions vs. words. Dean Awotona has developed a reputation for inaccessibility to his students and lack of communication with his faculty. Without these things, what are we left to interpret but his actions? The Dean has responded to declining enrollment by transferring the staff of the Student Advising Center, canceling required core CPCS classes as well as an entire major, and terminating respected faculty members of long standing. As the Boston Globe recently reported, professors have been asked to teach courses outside their expertise. These actions, as well as the suspension of the CPCS Constitution, have been interpreted by CPCS faculty and a large percentage of CPCS students as detrimental to the College’s future.

The Administration has an obligation to do more than make decisions in a vacuum; they need to communicate the rationale and value behind their actions with the community. What is the actual vision for the College’s future? Why does a CPCS student costs the University twice as much as other colleges and can this ever change? What elements of CPCS are vital to the rest of the University? What are the Administration’s enrollment goals and timeline? How can ‘improvements’ be made without adversely impacting students’ ability to graduate?

Before any changes can be made within CPCS, the Dean and Administration clearly need to collaborate more closely with faculty, staff, and students. It won’t be enough to merely explain these things to us, the Administration must also answer these questions for the people who work at the College. Suspending a college’s constitution and abrupt cancellation of classes without notice or follow-up communication is no way to heal the split.

From the outside, Awotona’s ability to accomplish this appears severely compromised. He seems so divisive and unpopular a figure within the College that his presence only hampers dialogue. That the Administration renewed his contract after two faculty no-confidence votes is certainly remarkable.

Awotona might be doing splendidly in a budgetary context, but without the support of his faculty he faces a definite handicap in performing his duties. Although the situation doesn’t begin or end with him, he has become the central figure in the controversy. The best thing for students is that this situation be rectified; amicable relations between Administration and faculty are always in our interest.

What will the outcome be? We’ll see. We implore all readers-CPCS affiliated or not-to contribute their take on the situation by emailing us at [email protected].