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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

On April 25th, Let’s Take It To The Hill!

On April 25th, Lets Take It To The Hill!
On April 25th, Let’s Take It To The Hill!

If there’s one political activity that every member of the UMass Boston community needs to participate in this school year-even if you’ve never done a political thing in your whole life so far-it’s to join a bunch of us at the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) Lobby Day on Wednesday, April 25th at 10 a.m. in the Gardner Auditorium at the Massachusetts State House in downtown Boston.

Founded at an earlier State House event in February by representatives of the students, staff and faculty from most of Massachusetts’ 29 public colleges and universities, PHENOM aims to be the main voice calling for more funding and respect for public higher education in the Commonwealth.

Originally organized by the UMass Amherst student government and faculty/staff unions, campus councils are now springing up all over the state. The UMass Boston PHENOM Council was launched last month by leadership from the Undergraduate Student Senate, the Graduate Employee Organization, and 3 staff and faculty unions. Two students from our ranks were elected at the initial statewide PHENOM meeting to sit on its Executive Committee: Ali Al-Sabbagh of the Student Senate, and Brandynn Holgate of the Graduate Employee Organization. In addition to the main action points of the PHENOM agenda-making MA public higher ed affordable, making it more accessible, hiring more teachers and staff, and giving more decision-making power to democratic institutions like student governments and campus unions-the UMass Boston PHENOM Council aims to add some of our own issues into the political mix. We’ll need to hear from everyone who wants to get involved to help us figure out our key issues in the months to come.

The situation we all face at UMass Boston is dire. Budget cuts since the late 1980s (and particularly in the last few years) have dropped Massachusetts higher ed funding from a high of 6 percent of the state budget to just above 4 percent at present. In this 20 year period, more and more of the burden of funding UMass Boston has fallen on students in the form of ever-rising fees, and to a lesser extent, rising tuition. Tuition and fees here are now breaking the $10,000 a year mark-and a similar fate has befallen all MA public colleges and universities. We are not alone nationally, either.

A report on 40 years of research on the demographics of entering 1st year college students in the U.S. just released by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA indicates that 1st year students at both private and public schools currently come from wealthier families than at any time in the 4 decades covered by the study.

This means that college is becoming more and more unaffordable for the working and middle-class students who form the overwhelming majority of students at schools like UMass Boston. It also means that if UMass Boston continues having to raise its tuition and fees every year like clockwork just to pay its bills and keep its doors open, then this is likely to become a very different school in the next 10 years. Since family income background still unfortunately correlates to race in the U.S., this means that UMass Boston students are going to look richer and richer and whiter and whiter over the decades to come. And the vaunted “Urban Mission” which dictates that this University is here to provide a quality higher education to Boston-area students who do not have a shot at getting it elsewhere could become nothing more than a misnomer.

We can stop these negative trends here and now, but only if UMass Boston community members, especially undergraduate and graduate students, step up to the task at hand and put some time into building the kind of political movement that can win more funding and respect for public higher education in Massachusetts.

There are a couple of easy ways to get involved right away:

1) Sign the yellow cards to your state legislators that you’ll see at tables in the Campus Center over the next week, if you haven’t already. They ask for all the good stuff mentioned above. If you don’t see one around, you can download one from the PHENOM website, and mail it in yourself: www.phenomonline.org.

2) Get yourself and your friends up to the State House on April 25th to talk directly to legislators and the media about the need for this state and nation to put higher education at the top of our political agenda again. UMB Chancellor Collins and UMass President Wilson put out a statement saying that it’s important for students to be involved in this kind of political activity in the service of Massachusetts public higher education. So you basically have permission from on high to blow off classes that day (but obviously check in with your professors first).

If you want to plug directly in to the UMass Boston PHENOM organizing right away, there’s no need to wait. Just drop us an email at [email protected], or call us at 617-287-3109. But make it a point to join us at the State House on the 25th. The education you save may be your own.

Jason Pramas is a doctoral student in Public Policy, and Co-Chair of the UMB Graduate Employee Organization/UAW Local 1596.