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UMass Boston Community Members Call On State To Help Close School's Budget Deficit04:29Download

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Construction work is done in front of the Campus Center at UMass Boston on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Construction work is done in front of the Campus Center at UMass Boston on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

A coalition of UMass Boston staff, faculty and students are pushing back against cuts on campus.

Interim Chancellor Barry Mills is under pressure to help close a deficit of about $30 million. That means layoffs and reduced services.

But a report out Thursday from the Coalition to Save UMB is calling on the UMass Board of Trustees to take a different approach and for the state to step in to help close that gap.

Anneta Argyres, who directs the school's labor extension program and helped author the report, says the school's budget problems are driven by a need to rebuild the campus, which she says was "shoddily constructed back in the 1970s"

"Rather than eliminating programs here, rather than eliminating jobs here, the state should be reinvesting in this campus so that we can continue to offer a high quality education to our students," Agyres told WBUR's Bob Oakes.

Agyres says if the state doesn't step in and costs continue to rise, UMass Boston will be forced to offer "a much diminished educational opportunity to many fewer students."

"We need to make sure that UMass Boston, as one of more urban campuses, and indeed the campus that serves the majority of our students of color and low income students across the system, remains accessible to the people of Greater Boston and to our students throughout the commonwealth," Agyres said.

Read a full transcript of Agyres conversation with Oakes below. 


Anneta Argyres: What's driving the deficit here at UMass Boston is the need to rebuild this campus, and the policies of the UMass Board of Trustees are pushing for the campus to take on the vast majority of that debt, to do the rebuilding. That's what's driving the pressure on our interim chancellor to make cuts on campus.

We think instead the state should be stepping up to rebuild this campus that was so shoddily constructed back in the 1970s. So rather than eliminating programs here, rather than eliminating jobs here, the state should be reinvesting in this campus so that we can continue to offer a high quality education to our students.

Bob Oakes: So what do you want the Baker administration to do?

I'd love the Baker administration to put more money on the table for capital investment in UMass Boston in particular. We appreciate that his administration has put, I believe it's $78 million, but that still leaves UMass Boston with a lot of debt on its books, a lot of principal and interest payments in order to rebuild our buildings.

The state is in a budget crunch, as usual. Money for public higher education has always been short on Beacon Hill. Are you optimistic or pessimistic that this idea for UMass Boston will move forward? 

I'm optimistic, with the support of the Legislature for the Fair Share Amendment, that we will be able to see more funds coming into public education. And I'm optimistic that the people of the commonwealth really value public education and will help us fight for more funding.

We need to make sure that UMass Boston, as one of more urban campuses, and indeed the campus that serves the majority of our students of color and low income students across the system, remains accessible to the people of Greater Boston and to our students throughout the commonwealth.

This report comes as part of a coalition of concerned students, employees and faculty at UMass Boston. How's the budget crisis there affected all their experiences on campus? 

The first experience we had of the budget crisis was the elimination of about 100 non-tenure-tracked faculty. This has driven up some class sizes and made it a little bit more challenging for students to easily find the courses they need in their work schedules.

The next thing that happened was the elimination of our early learning center, our daycare center. The other big thing that we're feeling is, staff here and I believe students are feeling it as well, is we've been under a partial hiring freeze. So as faculty leave, as staff leave, our offices and programs are being left understaffed.

What's clear from our research into, not only our current finances but what's coming at UMass Boston with these deficit payments and debt and principal payments moving forward over the next five years, is more and more money will have to be cut from our operating budget. This year we're talking about $25 million, next year we're talking about an additional $10 million to $15 million, and probably an additional $10 million each year for the next three or four years after that. We want to sound the alarm bell that we need to start working with the Legislature. The Board of Trustees needs to begin to take a different approach so that we can find a different way forward.

If the UMass Board of Trustees doesn't take your concerns into account, if Gov. Baker and the Legislature don't come up with more money for UMass Boston, for these construction projects, what's your biggest concern?

That we'll be offering a much diminished educational opportunity to many fewer students here at UMass Boston. If the costs continue to go up, the population that we've been historically driven to serve, our mission, will be abandoned, and the breadth of the education that they'll be getting will be greatly diminished.

This segment aired on September 14, 2017.

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