Students Organize to Preserve “Right to Education”

Caleb Nelson

A bus, offered by UMB Chancellor Motley, is leaving the Campus Center promptly at 7:30am on Friday, February 27th, so students can be present for the UMass Board of Trustees’ final decision on fee increases.

“These are not hidden decisions,” said Chancellor Motley. “We want to have a really transparent process whether we agree or disagree…I think that part of the challenge is the schedule of this meeting relative to when the students are available.”

Student organizations such as Massachusetts Students United (MSU) have galvanized to speed up decisions by State legislators, as well as to inform students of possible ramifications of a student fee increase.

“We are gathering as many students as we can to try to offer solutions to these problems,” said Tara Desisto, UMB MSU chapter president. “Right now we are focusing on Massachusetts legislators, the Governor being our target, and funding for our University Operating Budget being our demand.”

Among other initiatives throughout the week including several info sessions, MSU is organizing a call in to the Governor on Thursday from the UMB Campus Center. MSU member Keith Raboin offered his email address for students interested in getting involved: [email protected].

The 2010 budget for UMass begins on July 1st 2009, and financial aid decisions for the fall semester need to be made by the end of March. This creates a time crunch for the decision on the student fee increase, said Ellen O’Connor Vice Chancellor of Administration and finance.

“All this is happening in such darn real time that a significantly deliberative process, while desirable, is not likely to occur,” said O’Connor. “We’ve got to tell students now how much it is going to cost to come here next year.”

Many of the administration, staff, and faculty of UMB are concerned that more cuts would not only mean more lay-offs but also would mean a degradation of the quality of the education provided by UMB.

“We have to focus on a short term as well as a long term strategy,” said O’Connor. “If we just focus on the short term cuts to our budget, we are going to end up making decisions that will hurt our students in the long run.”

The aggressive financial aid policy is meant to take the sting out of fee increases. Despite its good intentions, UMB’s Student Trustee Alex Kulenovic is concerned about implementing a broad policy on UMB’s unique student body.

“We’re in the situation of trying to convince millionaires that five hundred dollars is a lot of money for a student,” said Alex Kulenovic. “There are a lot of problems with the current FAFSA[Free Application for Federal Student Aid] set up, which will become apparent in the next few years if this policy is implemented.”

UMB Director of Financial Aid Judy Keyes said that she decides financial aid on a case by case basis. Her policy is not to leave a single person out. However, she is concerned that without the fee increases everyone could end up losing.

“One of the board of trustees said to us [referring to cuts], ‘I don’t feel that you are at the muscle yet, let alone the bare bones’. Do you want us to be in the muscle when we are growing,” asked Keyes. “Do you want to come to a university every day that is at bare bones?”

Kulenovic, having heard many unique stories from students about the financial aid program’s inability to provide for their needs, says most UMB students will be left out of real financial aid options. Student loans should not be considered financial aid, he said. Loans create a hole for students to work their way out of after graduation.

“With people’s job prospects drying up, with families trying to stay afloat, we really need to focus in on the affordability side of things,” said Kulenovic. “There is only one policy that covers everyone, and that is low fees.”