Fee Hike Passed, Students Pissed

Caleb Nelson

The UMass board of trustees approved a plan to increase student fees by a 12-4 vote on Friday, raised the cost of attending UMB from $9,548 to $11,048 for the 2009-2010 academic year. The plan promises to allocate about 3 million dollars of the new fees to the Financial Aid Program, but many students are skeptical about how widely this money will be able to be spread among students.

With UMB on the verge of having 15,000 students next semester, $3 million is enough for one fifth of the student body to receive $1,000 more in financial aid per year. UMB Student Trustee Alex Kulenovic, however, believes that this is not enough to accommodate the Harbor Point campus’ unique student body.

“Our students are not traditional students,” Kulenovic said to trustees at Friday’s board meeting. “We are on the fringes. Many of us chose to attend UMass because we could not afford to go anywhere else…There are a number of flaws in the Federal financial aid system…The only policy that covers everyone is low fees.”

Over one hundred students from the five UMass campuses gathered at the board meeting held at UMass Dartmouth in protest of fee increases. 25 students from UMB were present, including members of Massachusetts Students United (MSU) and the Socialist Alternative.

A large number of police greeted the buses of protestors, including State, local and campus police forces, said Keith Raboin, a Student Senator, but they were surprisingly willing to accommodate students. Raboin acted as emissary between the students and the police.

“The Chancellors from Amherst and Lowell warned Public Safety that there was going to be a student insurrection,” said Raboin. “But the police were surprisingly supportive-one even said he liked what we were doing. Their only request was that we not yell loudly near the dorms when we were marching. Apparently [Dartmouth] students were complaining about the noise.”

Dartmouth Police allowed protestors into the building, and when it was full they offered a “four in four out” policy to students that gave everyone a chance to watch the meeting. They requested that students stay civil once in the building, but protestors still made sure that their voices were heard through emotional responses to the comments of several speakers at the board meeting.

The decision to raise fees passed at a preliminary board meeting on February 20th and included language saying that if state funds came as a result of the stimulus package, the University would use the money to rebate the fee increase to the students once the remaining deficit is filled. Since that meeting, students from all of the UMass campuses have organized to request further funding from the state for higher education.

Last week members of MSU worked to inform students at UMB of the state funding losses. They organized a call in to Governor Deval Patrick last Thursday in the cafeteria, getting over one hundred students from UMB to call in and ask for increased state funding for higher education.

“I’m glad that the students have a voice,” said UMB’s Dean of Students, Marita Poll. “I hope it’s taken into consideration.”

Several speakers referred to depth and range of state funding cuts including state programs like health care, homeless programs and day care. They expressed doubt that further state funding for higher education would come as a result of the stimulus package with so many other programs in need of funding.

“We will hopefully try to make sure that some of this money goes back to students at state universities,” said State Senator Joan Menard (D-Fall River/Somerset), “but I just don’t see the stimulus money coming for several months.”

Students in the room booed and roared chants in response to the speeches. UMass President Jack M. Wilson told students that they were out of order, and to be respectful. Students chanted these phrases back at him.

“Grow up,” President Wilson said. “One day you will understand how hard we are working to help you.”

Without further state funding UMass must absorb a $102 million deficit, reducing its funding to 2006 budget, FY06, levels. President Wilson said that the only choices are to drastically cut the budget, compromising the University’s mission and the quality of education provided, or to rely more on students for the time being and hope that state funding will increase in the future.

The board said that some if not all of the fee increase will be rebated to students if stimulus funds come through-once the remaining budget deficit is accounted for.

“We view the federal stimulus process with great anticipation and hope that we will be able to replace student dollars with federal dollars,” said President Wilson.

Student Senator Raboin said he appreciated all that UMass is doing to try to fill the budget deficit, but is not willing to say that a fee increase at this point is vital. His hope is that state funding will be restored. The only way that we will be able to do this, he said, is by making our voice heard.

“We knew that we were going to lose this fee battle,” Raboin said. “But this is just the beginning of a larger campaign.”