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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

UMB Chancellor Collins Offers Insights Over Lunch

Chancellor Michael Collins and Vice Chancellor Patrick Day are regular guys who like to eat lunch. Once a month, they like to eat lunch with a cross-section of student leaders in order to gauge the perspective of UMass Boston students.  The students are invited to share their questions, no holds barred, for the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor to offer answers and insights.  Both officers were extremely forthright and specific in their responses.  Here are some highlights from the luncheon. The Parking Issue Tamara Jette, president of the UMB Pre-Medical Society, brought up the first issue when she conveyed the confusion some of her peers experience about how our now-permanently-closed garage can be “structurally sound,” yet “not worth restoring” to its previous status. The question drew nods around the room. Collins explained that our campus’ buildings must withstand two factors: vertical force and horizontal force.  Vertical force is the weight of the building, its contents, and its occupants.  Collins noted that “our foundation goes down to bedrock, so we’re fine on the vertical front.”  Collins went on to explain that horizontal forces such wear and tear from the salt in ocean wind and rain put tremendous strain in the infrastructure.  He stated that natural wear and problems with the “construction from forty years ago” have caused the Upper and Lower Level infrastructure to require column reinforcement and cross-braces which would “make it hard to drive a car through safely.” He estimated that returning the space to its prior status would cost the University upwards of $110 million. “Frankly, it’s a waste of money that we can spend elsewhere for just a few hundred spaces.  We could build a new state-of-the-art parking facility for far less than that.” Collins claims that the current stop-gap solution is holding up so far.  Only “on one day” did the University exceed capacity in all its current combined lots, and that by “we estimate about sixty cars.”  He did point out that the parking lot construction surrounding the old pumping station adjacent to the JFK Library is underway and will alleviate much of the problem. Although he doesn’t have all the details ironed out yet, Collins says that his ultimate goal is that students and faculty “don’t have to leave campus to park….We may put buildings in different spaces around the campus, and I want to keep our options open.  In 2020, I’d like to see students with a classroom building that rivals the campus center.” Collins even cited a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ idea for future public transportation: a monorail that leads from the T to various stops around the campus and includes the JFK Library. The Dormitory Issue When the Chancellor spoke about building dormitories on campus, this reporter expressed an oft-voiced concern that  doing so would change the culture on our campus to something more like Amherst, and potentially undercut the urban mission which draws many commuter students such as himself.  Some students and faculty worry that dorms would create two tiers of students, those who live here and those who do not.  They worry that commuters will be underserved or even excluded  from the community in a proposed new model. Collins’ response was both emphatic and clear. While emphasizing that UMB’s urban mission and “commitment-first to Massachusetts, but also to Boston” would not change for the “foreseeable future,” he cited several drawbacks to being completely without dormitories. First, he described attending highly-promoted events on campus and seeing less than “fewer than thirty” students around him.  “I’m not talking about building the kind of dorms that you drag kegs to. I’d like to create housing in which faculty, honor students, and student leaders live together, where they can read the same book  of poetry together some evenings or attend an event on campus.”  Vice Chancellor Day jumped in to express his continuing enthusiasm and efforts towards fostering a “closer campus community.” Andrea Souza, Director of the Harbor Art Gallery, expressed some doubt such an idyllic vision. “It’s inevitable that you’re going to get the parties and the kegs if you have dorms,” she told Collins and Day.  She went to say that while she appreciated the need for greater campus solidarity, she came here specifically for the more determined, serious attitude of UMB students.  She noted that she “wouldn’t want to see the current culture eroded.” Collins also spoke of a little-known plight that many of our athletes suffer.  “When athletes come home from games, sometimes at 2 and 3 in the morning, they have nowhere to go..regulations don’t allow coaches to drive students home, so they drive home exhausted, or crash on a friend’s floor at Harbor Point, or have to pay the expense of a cab.  I’d like them to have someplace to go.” Building on his case, Collins continued by asking the students present if they could tell him how many Massachusetts valedictorians came to UMass Boston. Heads shook around the table.  “Not many,” ventured one student.  “You’re right,” Collins responded, saying that other universities “offer scholarships that include housing, which proves too good a deal for such students.” He believes that dormitories would have an immediately beneficial impact on the University’s recruitment, enrollment, and overall quality. Taylor Fife, who is an editor at the Mass Media, thanked the chancellor for this efforts and agreed that dorms would foster campus community and increase academic rigor. The Tuition Increase Issue When asked about the rising costs of attending UMB, the Chancellor said that fees, rather than tuition, had gone up over the last several years.  “It’s simply a matter of the fact that our costs have gone up an average of 4.1% a year, and gasoline a lot more than that,” Collins notes.  Collins stated that fees have only gone up 3.1%, and that the University has voluntarily taken that hit of one point. He cited the weakness of UMB’s endowment, declinning state financial aid, and a less-developed “fundraising capability-although that’s changing.” He noted that all were serious detriments that necessitated the fee hikes. When asked if he had any hopes of  increased state aid under Massachusetts’ Governor-elect Deval Patrick, Collins responded by saying he was “hopeful” but “hadn’t heard anything specific.” The Late Night Food Issue Jette brought up the need for other food options late at night and on weekends for students who are here on campus after hours. Collins pointed that if the University tried such an initiative, that it be dependent on student behavior. Students would have take advantage of it “regularly” for the vendors “not to lose their shirts,” he said. A Student Veterans’ Issue One of the biggest surprise questions came from Karland Barrett, the Coordinator for the Student Veterans Center.  Barrett served as a member of the United States Marine Corps and came here partially because UMass Boston claims the highest population of student veterans in New England. Barrett asked Chancellor Collins point blank why military training and classes were not directly transferable here at UMB as they are at other campuses in the UMass system such as Lowell and Amherst.  Collins responded by saying that he didn’t know, but would definitely investigate the issue.