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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Fighting for a Freer Education

Uniting the interests of students, staff and faculty at public universities takes more than a common goal of affordable higher education. It requires fair attention to everyone involved, said Tara DeSisto, the current UMB chapter president for Massachusetts Students Uniting (MSU).

“Faculty and staff unions primarily fund PHENOM [Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts], which means they choose the campaigns students work on,” said DeSisto. “Students need to have a faction of their own to be useful.”

No organization in the U.S. has ever attempted to unite the higher education interests of students, staff, faculty, and alumni in one organization until the creation of PHENOM in February 2007. The goal is affordable, accessible, democratic and well-funded public higher education. Without money to promote their own interests in these concepts, explained DeSisto, students often end up doing the leg work for campaigns they did not start.

MSU began in October 2007 when a group of student government leaders from various state schools including Holy Oak, Salem State, and the UMass campuses decided they wanted their own union to promote their interests to PHENOM. Offering a method for consensus, and a name to organize their own campaigns under, MSU’s current platform focuses on affordability.

“Our ‘public’ school is no longer publicly funded–it is retreating more and more into a privatization of our university by shoveling the state debt onto the personal debt of our students, a burden that we will have to carry long after we walk off the campus for the last time,” DeSisto said. “One of our long term goals is to make education free.”

Student angst over this issue has been growing over the past month as a result of the recent fee increases at UMB. Citing a need to retain quality, many staff and faculty members supported the fee increases. Higher student fees will cut fewer jobs at UMB.

Student voices were disregard and even ridiculed by some University staff and faculty members, and by several members of the press after MSU’s most recent campaign protesting fee hikes. One Boston Globe reporter called their efforts sophomoric and alienating.

The student fee hike will remain in place, despite Governor Patrick’s promise to increase state funding to UMass. The UMass board of trustees must approve a refund of the fees at their meeting in June, said DeSisto, which means students will have to pay the fees upfront and wait on a refund check from UMB.

“I am not sure if the Governor’s decision had anything to do with MSU,” said DeSisto. “But I do know that MSU provoked over 3000 phone calls from students across the state to the Governor’s office, regarding the need for the stimulus funding to avoid the fee increase.”

One challenge DeSisto faced while organizing MSU, besides finding committed students willing to spend time handling their union’s logistics, is drawing every student interested in PHENOM’s mission. Often PHENOM will draw its own student representation from state campuses and bring them to events, circumventing the MSU conduit.

This is why MSU needs student support and funding from the Student Senate, said DeSisto, to get their message out to students, and to facilitate student involvement. This requires signs, fliers and one of the biggest expenses is transportation.

“These issues are unique to UMB because we are a commuter school,” she explained. “It takes a lot more effort to get students involved.”

This challenge is faced by every student organization wanting to represent the desires of the student body, said Neil MacInnes-Barker, a Student Senator.

“MSU has the same challenge that the Student Senate does,” he explained. “How can they represent the student body if they are not talking to the student body?”

Student interest and involvement in MSU has been steadily growing according to DeSisto. In her experience talking to other students, MSU’s platform is consistent with their needs.

About the Contributor
Caleb Nelson served as the following positions for The Mass Media the following years: Editor-in-Chief: Fall 2010; 2010-2011; Fall 2011 News Editor: Spring 2009; 2009-2010