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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Ribbon Cutting Warmly Welcomed by Classified Staff

Mayor Menino, Chancellor Gora, Lt. Gov Kerry Healey,, UMass President Jack Wilson and Commissioner David Perrini cut the ribbon on the Campus Center. - Photo by Harry Brett
Mayor Menino, Chancellor Gora, Lt. Gov Kerry Healey,, UMass President Jack Wilson and Commissioner David Perrini cut the ribbon on the Campus Center. – Photo by Harry Brett

A host of local luminaries arrived at UMB to celebrate the official opening of the Campus Center, UMB’s new flagship building. Calling it “our new front door,” Chancellor Jo Ann Gora waxed eloquent over the $75 million project, saying it was “the building that UMass Boston students deserved.”

Boston Mayor Thomas, Menino, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Healey and newly-minted UMass President Jack Wilson were on hand with Chancellor Gora to dedicate the new building and take part in the ribbon cutting ceremony. Other guests included Robert H. Quinn, UMB alumnus, former chairman of the Board of Trustees, and namesake of the Quinn Administration Building. UMass Boston’s very own Olympian, Fredson Gomes, put in an appearance as well. Gomes will compete in the Korean sport of Tae Kwon Do in Athens this summer.

Members of SEIU Local 888 came out to give the building a traditional UMass Boston welcome, crowding into the building’s atrium to protest their unfunded contracts. SEIU 888 is composed of UMass Boston’s clerical, maintenance, and grounds workers and they are the last higher education union to go without a contract.

The crowd, dressed in purple union shirts, carried signs that read “Contract” and “1000 days.” The SEIU contract has been unfunded for three years. The protest was mostly decorous as union workers rattled paper signs and cracked jokes. They cheered when Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Keith Motley said, “This is your building, too,” and one wiseacre quipped, “Yeah, we might have to live here.”

Even though Governor Mitt Romney, after a protracted skirmish with the Legislature, finally signed into law funding for union contracts at higher education institutions across the state last winter, SEIU Local 888’s contract was left out for reasons that are unclear. This means that UMB’s classified staff, who are the lowest paid union staff on campus, have gone without a raise or increase in health benefits for three years. SEIU spokesman Jeff Hall speculated that, “The lowest paid at UMass Boston are being made an example of by the Romney administration.”

Saying that the building marked a turning point for UMB, Gora noted that this is the first new building on campus since 1981. “After 12 years of planning and discussion, we can finally say, ‘the Campus Center is open for business.’ The Campus Center’s programming and planning will enhance the experience of each and every student here at UMass Boston.”

She also thanked the architects, downtown firm Kallman, McKinnell & Wood, saying, “They have surrounded our students with the sun and the sea, in the first campus building to face the harbor. They have given us the front door we have always wanted.”

She also noted the building comes equipped with state of the art wireless access.

Lt. Gov. Healey came to the microphone to a chorus of boos and yells, and said, “I will take your message back to the Statehouse…you heard me outside. I came and talked to you outside, so let’s talk about the good things that are happening at UMass.”

Lt. Gov. Healey said, “This is one of the most beautiful buildings in Boston.

“Those students are very important to the Commonwealth…When they graduate, they stay right here at work. When we talk about the students of UMass Boston, we’re talking about our future workforce.” She left the podium to applause and a short chant of “Fund the contracts.”

Mayor Menino took the podium to cheers and applause and a shout of “Menino for Governor!” and “CPCS!”

Mayor Menino, who is a graduate of UMB and the College of Public and Community Service, said, “It’s really a pleasure to be back here at my alma mater. We’ve come a long way from the university at Arlington Street, where the elevators didn’t work, the classrooms didn’t work, the lights didn’t work.”

He praised the urban outreach programs and community service programs at UMass and said, “The university represents the diversity of our city. Rich or poor, from other countries, from our country…that’s what the University of Mass. has. And never shall we move from that mission of who we serve.”

The mood of the audience was genial and good-natured, with equal parts applause and shouts. After the ribbon cutting, UMB’s Poet Laureate Duncan Nelson declaimed an ode titled, “The Three ‘R’s,” as the guests made their way from the atrium to the first floor for a reception.

At the reception, purple-shirted union members mingled and pressed their case to anybody who would listen, and administration, guests and students mingled around displays of appetizers.

Chancellor Gora said of the union protests, “It’s contacting individual legislators that’s going to get this done.” Gora had tried to reassure the union that the administration was doing its best to help in an e-mail the previous day. The e-mail stated, in part, “we remain committed to supporting efforts to secure long-delayed funding for the classified staff contracts.”

Quinn, asked about the protesters, said, “It’s the American way, isn’t it?” Quinn also reminisced about the university, saying, “When I was a kid, we used to play in the dump,” meaning the landfill site that the UMB campus is built on.

President Wilson was “thrilled,” with the new building. “I’m thrilled for the students. It’s a symbol of the transformation possible in their lives,” he said, adding that the union protest was “part of the American political process.”

The new Campus Center is 331,000 square feet and houses Student Life, Admissions, Student Services, the bookstore, and a new 700-seat cafeteria. It is a drastic departure from the severe institutional design of the rest of the campus and has been widely praised.

About the Contributor
Carl Brooks served as news editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2003-2004