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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Students Write Beacon Hill

In the face of yet another round of budget cuts and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s proposal for the reorganization of the UMass education system, students at UMB are organizing to ensure that public higher education remains a priority.

After conferring with Student Trustee Heather Dawood and gaining the sponsorship of Campus and Community Affairs, Susan Smith, Harry Gardner, Erica Mena, and Fritz Hyppolite, armed with stationary and postage, launched a letter-writing initiative last Wednesday and Thursday on the first floor of McCormack Hall.

“It basically evolved out of our concern with the budget cuts, we all value very strongly the programs that we’re in here at UMass Boston,” explains junior Susan Smith. “We don’t want to see other people denied the opportunity we were given. We’re really just trying to get people to tell their stories, why they came here, and why they value their college degree.” As of Friday, their efforts had succeeded in collecting approximately two hundred letters addressed to the legislature from the UMass Boston community.

“I think that being aware that Massachusetts is a socially liberal, but fiscally conservative state lets us know that we need to voice our concerns with the budget. Being that we are in a budget crisis, we need to let them know what our concerns are so that they are represented accurately,” explains Mena.

The students galvanizing the effort maintain that the issue of “saving” UMass from privatization is an issue not only for UMass students, but the surrounding communities as well. “This not only affects students at UMass Boston, but the people attending public high schools around here. Where are they going to go?” says freshman Harry Gardner.

“A lot of the people that come from lower economic parts of the community look for full-fledged universities to gain an education. That’s what’s fostered in those communities – a liberal arts education is what is going to get you out of that status. And now, [if Romney’s action is passed] the only place that type of education will be accessible will end up being the flagship campus at Amherst, which most people cannot access or afford,” offers Hyppolite. “For the most part, the mass amount of people who take advantage of this education here are not going to be able to do so, and that’s going to hurt us in the long run with taxes revenues, a lower per capita income in Massachusetts, and that will have long-ranging effects on Massachusetts.”

The Faculty-Staff Union at UMass shares the concerns of these students. “The tradition of public education is very important,” said Elizabeth Mock, President of the Faculty-Staff Union at UMass Boston. “Public education started in Massachusetts. It’s part of the value of our society to have that opportunity for citizens, not everybody can afford to go to a private elite school. In an effort to preserve the affordability and accessibility of UMB, the Faculty-Staff Union initiated a phone campaign last Wednesday and Thursday in the Healey Library enabling anyone on campus to identify his or her representatives, ask questions, gain access to contact numbers, and place phone calls to legislative offices.”

“This is actually the first time I’ve called my representatives, but I think it’s great that we’re raising awareness,” said junior Bonnie McManus. “Honestly, I like this school better than the private institution I previously attended because I find that the professors care more because they realize that [non-traditional] students have so much on their heads,” added sophomore Meghan Dalton.

The union’s efforts will culminate on April 29 in a march of students and staff on the Statehouse including representatives from twenty-nine other public higher education institutions. Mock hopes to draw some 5,000 demonstrators, and the Faculty-Staff Union has been raising awareness of the event on campus with stickers and flyers. “We’re asking faculty to promote this in their classes, and make it a learning experience. It’s part of students’ educations to be informed citizens and to understand how they can make a difference.”

Professor Lois Rudnick, director of the American Studies Department, plans to teach her classes at the demonstration. “I feel that it is crucial for the entire public higher education system of the Commonwealth to show up on April 29 for the day and hold their classes there as a way of visibly expressing in thousands of numbers the danger to the entire state system that Governor Romney’s plan is going to create if followed through. She continues, “A thirty-percent budget cut is going to decimate most of our programs, if this reorganization plan goes through UMB and the other UMass campuses will virtually be turned into vocational ed. schools. Working- and middle-class students who can’t afford private higher education will end up having circumscribed possibilities for their academic coursework and professional futures. And a UMass degree will go from something one can proudly hold up against any other liberal arts or science degree to one that is going to have much less value, not just for those who are going through the system now, but for those who have already graduated.”

Information for contacting Massachusetts representatives and senators is available at www.state.ma.us/legis. For more information on the UMass student initiative visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/phemp/.