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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

PHENOMenal Work for Higher Education

Lisa Field, a faculty member of Fitchburg State College, discusses PHENOMs legislation with an aide for state senator Robert Antonioni.
Lisa Field, a faculty member of Fitchburg State College, discusses PHENOM’s legislation with an aide for state senator Robert Antonioni.

Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), an alliance of students, faculty, alumni and community supporters of the 29 public Massachusetts colleges and universities, held their first lobby day at the state house on April 25. The four-hour long event gathered these people under the same roof to gain support from state senators and representatives in the form of 16,000 signed post cards.

“Phenom. Not the one-season TV show about the trials of being a teen tennis pro. 1993, anyone remember that? Phenom. The world-famous rock and roll band from India. Have you ever heard of them? Google ‘phenom,’ and those are the two first things you get,” Susan Moir, director of UMass Boston’s Labor Resource Center, said at the beginning of the program. “We are not those. We are the first ever coalition of all the constituencies for higher education in Massachusetts […] representing a half a million people in the commonwealth for higher education. Not a rock and roll band or a bad TV series.”

The goal of PHENOM is to have state senators and representatives pass six pieces of legislation that they believe will bring Massachusetts’ higher education system to the level at which it should be. This includes $3 billion to be used for repairs and construction of outdated or worn out structures, like the oft-mentioned parking garages at UMass Boston, a loan forgiveness program for students who meet certain criteria and closing the $400 million funding gap between the current state funding and the required funds.

Also, they have developed pieces of legislation to require publishers to de-bundle textbooks to detract from the amount of money students already pay, to give adequate health insurance to adjunct faculty on campuses and to end disparity for students who graduated from Massachusetts high schools but are denied in-state tuition rates.

“A little over two months ago, we met in this very building downstairs and […] developed this legislative program. We met over the past couple of months and developed [these] six legislative proposals that we are here today to lobby for and urge our legislators to support,” president of the Student Advisory Council of the Board of Higher Education at Framingham State College Jake Oliveira said. “Without the support for these principles, without the cards being distributed, without all of you meeting with your legislators, there’s little we can do. But united, as we are today, we can accomplish everything, I feel, that’s on this piece of paper.”

Those who showed up for the lobby day were divided into 20 groups and were given post cards, signed by advocates of PHENOM, organized by state senators. Each group delivered the bundles to the senators’ offices, along with a packet of information detailing PHENOM’s legislative program. From the 16,000 collected, about 5,000 were set aside to be delivered directly to Gov. Deval Patrick’s office.

The purpose of giving Patrick some of the post cards was not only to show that this group, which he witnessed the creation of, has made vast strides since its inception two months ago, but to provide “photo opportunities … to get the word out about PHENOM,” as Moir said at the beginning of the day.

Displays of public support are necessary for causes such as PHENOM’s to spread their message further. However, even with the backing of high officials and a substantial number of people so early in its existence, members of large coalitions such as this have the potential to divide. Organization is a key factor in mobilization of legislative agendas, and will be vital to PHENOM’s fight.

PHENOM’s next general assembly is scheduled for 2 p.m. on June 7 at Framingham State College. More information on the group and its principles can be found at phenomonline.org. To get involved with UMass Boston’s council, contact the group at [email protected].