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The Board of Trustees of the University of Massachusetts system met Wednesday morning in a bright white ballroom inside UMass Boston's campus center, still only 12 years old. Outside there were piles of dirt, working excavators and a beautiful view of Boston Harbor.
There was no mistaking the question at hand: UMass Boston is a campus in transition. Around its original cramped brick buildings, workers are building a modern research university that will welcome the state's most diverse collection of students.
But that construction has come with a cost. This year, the school is grappling with a multimillion-dollar deficit. In its wake, the popular Chancellor Keith Motley announced he's stepping down. And this week, students were met with surprise cuts to the summer schedule aimed at shrinking the spending gap.
Those developments led faculty, staff and students to pack the board meeting Wednesday and ask the trustees to protect the university's core mission.
Tom Goodkind, president of the school's staff union, says the school made do with defective buildings for decades — and that it leads the way in providing good, affordable education to a special population.
"When it comes to the UMass system's first generation students and undergraduates of color, we are indisputably the flagship," Goodkind told the board.
Also among the audience were alumnae like Cecilia Cordova, who got both her bachelor's and master's degrees from UMass Boston.
"When I was here, we were mainly wanting this new building that we have. So I've seen some of the transition. But this is the first time I've seen the students paying the cost," Cordova said.
Cordova was there with her daughter, Imani Hill, who's taking classes in Asian studies at UMass. She's concerned about cuts to course offerings.
"I don't like the fact that there are cuts to classes people are interested in doing," Hill said. "Education should not have to take the back-burner just because."
As the meeting carried on, trustees discussed ways to close the deficit. They thanked students and faculty for their time before going into a closed session.
Outside the ballroom, DeWayne Lehman, UMass Boston's director of communications, admitted the school is in a fiscal crisis — but he said teaching students remains the administration's top priority.
"We're putting our students first, and we're making sure they have the courses they need so that they can continue their studies and graduate on time," Lehman said.
As students brace for further cuts, campus leaders are looking for a path into the future. For now, the school is stuck in a muddy present.
This segment aired on April 12, 2017.