University Mega-Structure Deteriorating

Provost Paul Fonteyn

Provost Paul Fonteyn

Gintautas Dumcius

New deans and financial challenges were put on display as the university’s top finance and academic officials spoke at the annual convocation faculty/staff breakfast.

As UMass Amherst grabs headlines on the sorry state of its physical plant, UMass Boston Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Ellen O’Connor pointed to problems with UMass Boston’s infrastructure. “It’s deteriorating out from under us,” she said of the campus’s mega-structure, with five buildings on top of two levels of a parking structure. “One foundation holds it up,” she said of the parking structure. O’Connor said she was not trying to be dramatic or scare people. “I’m trying to build support and momentum to make this a priority,” she said. “It’s too big for the amount of money we’ve got.” She said she is working with UMass President Jack Wilson’s office on a capital plan for the university. In UMass Board of Trustees committee meetings over the summer, O’Connor said that the five buildings–McCormack Hall, Wheatley Hall, Healey Library, the Science Building, Quinn Administration–“have a major deferred maintenance backlog of $100 plus million, reflecting their poor design, poor construction, the saltwater environment,” and that the building systems “have exceeded their useful life,” according to a report filed by Steven Schwartz, faculty representative to the board and chair of the Psychology Department. The backlog includes renovations of the science laboratories and a re-wiring of the campus for information technology. The parking structure is reportedly on a “deterioration curve.” Schwartz noted that O’Connor pointed to a report by structural engineer consultants, which said “we are at a point somewhere between ‘accelerated rate of deterioration and when the structure would have to be demolished.'”

Forty million is needed for new garage and nearly $22 million for sprinklers and seawall repairs, among other items. At convocation, O’Connor also outlined other goals for the year. Proposals are for shifting away from a “control model” and making Administration and Finance a more participatory process.

Launching the new Campus Center, which opened in April, is another goal. The wildly acclaimed structure has a $40 million mortgage on it. “It’s a terrific commitment,” said O’Connor. Administration officials hope to make it as self-sufficient as possible through conferences, like the upcoming Business Week Living Leadership Conference in October with business leader and Apprentice star Donald Trump, and former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev live via satellite uplink.

O’Connor’s mention of retrofit–filling in the spaces of departments and university agencies that moved into the Campus Center–was greeted with applause from a crowd made up of mostly faculty. “We’ve got to get the retrofit finished,” she said. 35 New Faculty Positions, Says Provost

Provost Paul Fonteyn announced the restoration and addition of 35 new faculty positions. “Next year, we’re going to continue to build the faculty ranks,” he said.

Thirty-two tenure-track faculty were acquired last year. Three out of four were women, and forty-seven percent were minorities, said Fonteyn, suggesting that it was the most diverse faculty hired in the history of the university. Fonteyn also recognized the addition of several administrators, among them the college deans: College of Liberal Arts Dean Donna Kuizenga, from the University of Vermont, College of Nursing Dean Greer Glazer, from Kent State University, and Trotter Institute Director Barbara Lewis from the University of Kentucky, and College of Management Dean Philip Quaglieri, who was serving on the interim. Fonteyn pointed out that the university bagged Richard Antonak as vice provost for research, who came from Indiana State University.

“So we swapped,” joked Fonteyn, in a reference to Chancellor Jo Ann Gora’s departure to become president of Indiana’s Ball State University in August. At a Faculty Council meeting last week, Fonteyn said he was “disappointed” that the search for a dean for the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies didn’t work out. The university had unsuccessfully tried to acquire a professor from the University of Illinois to fill the position earlier this year.

Fonteyn went on to call UMass Boston a “battleship” in UMass President Jack Wilson’s “flotilla of ships.” “I prefer ‘battleship’ because this is truly where the action is,” he said.

Wilson: ‘Springtime For UMass’

“This is springtime for UMass,” said President Wilson. “It’s an exciting time for campus, too.”

Wilson had gone on a recent trip to China, and even there he was hearing about UMass Boston. The university as a whole, he said, is making a comeback. “Things are coming back now and we’re ready to climb that mountain,” he said. Funding for the university is up, coming close to $400 million last semester, a bounce back from severe budget cuts over the last three years. The state Legislature also decided to fund matching grants of $50 million over five years if UMass can raise $100 million.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Wilson, who was appointed permanent president in March, after serving on the interim since August 2003. President William M. Bulger had stepped down after months of fighting with Governor Mitt Romney over a higher education reorganization plan that included the elimination of Bulger’s office.