John Kerry and Deval Patrick Visit UMass Boston

Photo by John Kane

Photo by John Kane

Taylor Fife

Last Friday Deval Patrick made a pit stop at UMass Boston during his race to the corner office on Beacon Hill. Patrick mostly listened to faculty and students during a roundtable discussion in the Science Center. The discussion on Sept. 22nd was also attended by Senator John Kerry and focused mainly on the achievements of the department, the lack of adequate resources and facilities, and future funding of the university. Patrick also spoke on his commitment to public higher education and attacked gubernatorial opponent Kerry Healey for “walking away from higher education.”

Prior to the event, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Patrick and Senator Kerry walked through the campus, stopping in the Campus Center, certainly the jewel of the university. After seeing the marble and glass of our front building, Kerry and Patrick were brought through the long concrete tunnels of the Science Center and into the green chemistry science lab.

The faculty clearly came to the roundtable with the intent to show the academic, social, and economic worth of the sciences and nursing at UMass Boston. After presenting clear arguments about the value of these programs, it was made clear that increased funding could improve them greatly.

One faculty member explained the structure of the College of Math and Science and spoke of the grants and awards that have been won by the faculty. All of this, he noted, notwithstanding limitations in funding and facilities. “So we haven’t stood still, even given our restrictions in resources and those faculty have helped this campus earn a Carnegie ranking as a research institution and we intend to maintain that productivity,” he remarked.

Another faculty member discussed exactly how students contribute to the state economy, and also the good that the school does in helping poor and minority students. “Those students that we teach have graduated and gone on to other programs, professional programs, they’ve started businesses, they’ve contributed in many ways, have contributed significantly to the workforce in Massachusetts as well as elsewhere. We should underline again that those graduates are often minorities; more than 50% are the first in their families to attend college. And they work their way through school… they contribute to the economy not only after graduating but while they are students. And they can do more if more student aid were available.”

The nursing program was a department that received particular interest from both Kerry and Patrick. Associate Dean of the College of Nursing & Health Sciences Marion Winfrey spoke of UMass’ contribution to nursing in the region. “We are one of the largest suppliers of nurses in the northeast,” she said. “If you are a patient you have a one in nine chance that your nurse is a UMass Boston graduate.”

Other members of the science team spoke of a “pipeline” that the university was participating in. This pipeline serves a connection from primary education all the way to higher education, in which students would be adequately prepared and channeled into degrees in math and sciences.

After each professor introduced himself/herself and his/her work, Kerry asked the faculty how public policy affected the work being done at UMass Boston. Kerry also specifically asked how the policies of President George Bush have hindered progress.

Faculty immediately agreed that lack of ample funding severely limited their departments. The nursing shortage became a hot topic and professors remarked that more funding could attract more PhD level people to the program, in turn more nurses could be trained for work in the Commonwealth.

Provost Paul Fonteyn specifically mentioned the effect of funding cuts on physical resources. Speaking of the green chemistry lab, the provost remarked, “This is probably the best lab we have, and the facilities are just abysmal.” Senator Kerry and Deval Patrick were both shocked when Provost Fonteyn declared that most labs were 30 years old.

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After the roundtable discussion Deval Patrick addressed the press over his thoughts on higher education. “I came by today because I wanted to be close to, and I want to continue to be close to what it is we’re doing and not doing in public higher education here in Massachusetts,” said Patrick.

“We’ve been walking away from public higher ed,” he added, “just when we know we need a way for people to get into a hold of the new economy and that it takes a higher degree to get you there. And that ought to matter to all of us here in Massachusetts.”

John Kerry echoed Patrick’s sentiments, but slipped in a scathing comment about the current administration. “The fact is that the Bush/Romney/Healey education program for this state and for other states in the country is short-changing our young people the opportunities that they deserve.” Remarked Kerry, “When you come to a great university like this and you hear dedicated professionals say that they’re dealing with a laboratory that’s 30 years old and it’s harder and harder for students to afford to be here and make ends meet you recognize the challenge that we’re dumping-literally dumping-on the higher education system of America.”

Deval Patrick expressed his support for non-traditional and working students at UMass Boston. Patrick’s sister, age 50, graduated last from UMB last year while working full time. “I saw what a sacrifice it was for her, and also what a huge opportunity it was. Education transformed my own life; it transforms the lives of young people here every day,” he said.

After Patrick and Kerry finished speaking, members of the press asked questions on taxes, illegal immigration and crime, almost as a preview to Monday’s gubernatorial debate.