UMass Boston Balks At Chop

UMass Boston Balks At Chop

Gin Dumcius

UMass Boston administration officials decried Governor Mitt Romney’s plans for higher education, one calling it the “least informative budget” he had ever seen.

At an emergency meeting of the UMB Budget Cuts Group called in response to reports in the press of Governor Romney’s plans for UMass, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance David MacKenzie denied he had advance notice of the plan, saying that he found out about the plan at the same time everybody else, and had no “secret information.”

Joined at the table by Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Kathy Teehan and Provost Paul Fonteyn, Vice Chancellor MacKenzie explained Governor Romney’s plan to the small audience gathered in the Ryan Lounge.

“What the governor’s budget attempts to do is to eliminate what he perceives to be a $3 billion dollar budget gap,” MacKenzie said. “In higher ed, there’s been a lot of discussion of what he plans to do, [but] very little of it is actually written down in the budget.”

MacKenzie pointed out two important budget points that will affect higher education. First, the governor has consolidated all funding for all of the campuses of higher education into one line item. Before, University of Massachusetts, each state college, and each community college had a seperate line item. Last year $880 million was appropriated to public higher education, compared to this year’s $550 million, totaling a $330 million dollar, or a 38%, cut. Last year UMB suffered a loss of $4.5 million in state funding, and this year the amount threatens to be three times as much.

“That’s pretty shocking,” he said, but added that it is not “quite as bad” as it looks, since the governor plans to allow campuses to keep the tuition that students pay, whereas previously all tuition received went directly to the general Commonwealth.

“Now, when you look at our campus, this 38% translates into 28 million dollar cut to our budget. The amount of tuition we send to the commonwealth is about $14 million. So it’s about half,” MacKenzie said, stating that Romney is really cutting the budget by $150 million, even though the line item cut is over $300 million.

MacKenzie says Romney expects $100 million dollars of the cut will be funded by savings resulting from reorganization of higher education. “There are a number of reorganizations that have been talked about and he spoke about in his press conference. In reality, there’s nothing in the budget that supports this. There’s no statutory changes or anything in the budget per se.” MacKenzie said not to make much of that fact, suggesting that it was something Romney and his staff were discussing at the last minute and didn’t have the chance to draft language to support it.

Under the Governor’s plan, the UMass system would break up, as Amherst would become a statewide research institution, an Executive Office of Higher Education eliminates the need for the UMass President’s Office, and the remaining three undergraduate campuses–Dartmouth, Lowell, and Boston– would be placed in regional groupings with community and state colleges. UMass Boston would be grouped with Bunker Hill Community College, and Roxbury Community College.

The rest of the cut is expected to be made up by tuition fee increases. “So one of the goals of the governor’s budget was to have no new taxes, and there are no direct taxes to the budget… He expects to increase fees on students of public higher education by about $50 million dollars,” the vice chancellor said.

“Mitt Romney is saying this isn’t personal, this is business. What’s more personal than one’s education?” Student Trustee Heather Dawood said, mentioning her plans to start a letter-writing campaign to the state legislature, called Higher Education Made Personal. “The more of this that happens, and the larger the numbers become, we can at least make sure it’s understood that public higher education is personal.”

The student trustee and Student Senator Fritz Hyppolite had dropped in on the UMB Budget Cuts Group meeting, on their way to a Student Advisory Council meeting in Amherst, where discussion of the Romney plan took up most of the time. SAC is made up of student government officials from across the state.

“Education isn’t supposed to be a business. It’s supposed to make sure services stay the same or better,” Student Senator Fritz Hyppolite said, stating that he had looked at the proposal and if he was a legislator, he would not pass it. “I think reform is needed, but for quality.”

“I think Romney’s proposals for UMass will decimate the system,” said Donna Neal, Associate Director of Student Life and a member of the joint executive board of Local 509, the professional staff union on campus, shortly after the news came out. “…[O]bviously Governor Romney has never had to worry about paying for his or his children’s education. His proposal to raise tuitions and fees, etcetera will further prohibit the working people of Massachusetts from gaining an education. His comment during the blizzard that everybody stay home and sit on their ottomans is a perfect example of his inability to relate to the everyday person. I don’t know how many people listening to that would know what an ottoman is, but most of us have a hassock.”