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The Point: Following the Money


“Don’t Believe the Hype. It’s a sequel.”

--Public Enemy

Greetings, colleagues.

As promised last week the Executive Committee plans to use The Point in the next few weeks to take up questions surrounding systemic racism at UMB, hoping to join conversations that are taking place in the streets, on our virtual campuses, online, and in the halls of government.  Last week we noted that we want to investigate issues of money, metrics, and mobility. This week we explore how decisions surrounding budgets are always shaped by existing ideas about race, value, and mission. Anna Kornbluh warned us even before the Black Lives Matter uprising of our moment that the COVID crisis would lead many university administrators to impose the austerity measures they have been formulating in the past decade.  This is unfolding, in front of our eyes, under the leadership of system president Martin Meehan and Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman.

On June 7th, Interim Chancellor Newman published a think piece in CommonWealth magazine that articulates a remarkable bait-and-switch proposition: Black and Brown populations have been hardest hit by the current crises and thus will be the populations best served by the expansion of online education. The Interim Chancellor promotes the expansion of online education as a modality for closing racialized opportunity and achievement gaps (with no supporting data) at the same moment that faculty are sharing stories about how online teaching is deepening existing inequalities. 

Who among us was surprised when just over a week after the CommonWealth article appeared, the President's office announced that the system had partnered with private Brandman University (yes, that is actually the name of the outfit) to “scale up” UMass Online? The racial justice angle was again foreground: “Given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the vivid impact of racial inequality, a venture that previously seemed important to us is nothing less than essential,” is how President Marty Meehan put it.  (Those of us who are old enough will recognize how much of the current cheerleading for the expansion of online education borrows from the rhetoric of MOOC-Utopian days of 2012.)

When the UMass Online plan was first announced in 2019 John Warner wrote in Inside Higher Ed that the system was “betting the future of the institution on what looks to be a longshot requiring near perfect execution in a crowded marketplace.”  Even more sharply, our Salem State University colleague Roopika Risam has written that the “UMass plan seems to assume universities are credentialing services. With continued defunding of public higher ed, impending demographic drops…it’s tempting to ‘sell’ the university ‘product’ as a degree….[A] flaw in the UMass plan is that standardized mass education isn’t what our students need…Public higher education isn’t receiving sufficient funding to…prepare students for the new economy. The UMass plan is NOT going to help-and it’s going to siphon funds away from our core missions.”

Nowhere does the disinvestment in our core mission come into starker relief than with the administration’s austerity approach to our crucial Centers and Institutes.  As the Bay State Banner explained last year, the four institutes organized to study and engage with Black, Asian American, Native American, and Latinx communities would be particularly hard hit.  The so-called “glide path to self-sufficiency” represents a direct attack on the urban mission of the university; as our colleague Professor Tony Van Der Meer put it at the time, the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture is a “public entity” and its gutting makes a grievous statement about the university’s commitment to Black people, politics, and culture.

The FSU Executive Committee understands that we cannot begin to do the necessary anti-racist work our moment demands without the guidance of our colleagues in the Africana Studies Department and the research, programming, and community engagement carried out by the Trotter Institute.  Will the administration follow the call from Africana Studies and commit UMass Boston to becoming an anti-racist public university?  Will the campus and system administration put the requisite resources on the table to address the inequities produced by systemic racism for Black faculty, students, and staff?

Faculty must take leadership in reasserting our shared values. This is your union: how do you think we should be engaging as a union in the restorative racial justice efforts of our moment? Let us know at


Jeffrey Melnick

Graduate Program Director, American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

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