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The Point: Higher Learning


Greetings, Colleagues:

I hope you managed to have some kind of break and at least were able to limit your screen time over the holiday and immerse in some kind of relaxing and restorative “real” life.

The big news on campus last week was, of course, the appointment of Dr. Joseph Berger as our permanent provost, after a national search brought us two very qualified male candidates as finalists for the job. (I guess as a community we have to say it was a successful search, if a failed Bechdel test.)

So, first things first: the FSU Executive Committee wants to express its gratitude to soon-to-retire interim provost Emily McDermott for all her hard work and devotion to UMass Boston.  We also note that saying goodbye to a scholar specializing in Greek tragedy at this moment in United States history will be a deeply-felt loss.

A week earlier the Chancellor announced the retirement of Joan Becker as Vice Provost for Academic Support Services and Undergraduate Studies; the ExCom wishes the Vice Provost all the best in retirement. We welcome Dean Liya Escalera, whose Ph.D. is from the Higher Education program at UMass Boston (where she won that program’s Social Justice Book Award) as incoming Vice Provost.  With the recent appointment of Deans Berger and Escalera, two social-justice oriented scholars and administrators, joining our new Chancellor, Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, who came to UMB with a similar orientation from UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, it is worth asking as a community what values we might advocate for with our progressive leadership:

*We should expect the new leadership to resist the ever-encroaching and devastating logic of austerity budgets.  Our union comrades at Rutgers and Salem State have, in recent days, unmasked the faulty reasoning and outright lies that underpin the rhetoric of fiscal emergency.  Zero-sum neoliberal competition among university units, cooked books, administrative bloat—it’s all here for the looking.  We FSU members will have to do similar work (building on the Coalition to Save UMB’s Crumbling Foundations report from a few years ago) to help our new leaders see how short-term austerity can only lead to long-term losses.  And we should be able to feel confident their collective centering of social justice at the heart of higher education will translate into leadership around sustainable financing of higher education, cancellation of student debt, and fairer pricing of undergraduate and graduate education.

*We should expect the new leadership to reassert and expand the urban mission of UMass Boston.  When Joseph Berger was hired as Dean of CEHD a few years ago he reminded us that there are two types of urban research institutions—“those that are islands in the cities and the communities they serve, and those that are fully integrated and enmeshed in the communities they serve.” This would seem to suggest (just for instance) that this emerging leadership team will resist the attacks on the campus centers and institutes that threatened them the past few years; these centers and institutes—especially the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture,  the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, the Institute for Asian American Studies, and the Institute for New England Native American Studies— have been central to integrating and enmeshing UMass Boston in the surrounding community. We can also assume that the new leadership team will work closely with community groups such as Dorchester Not For Sale to ensure that the development of the Bayside property is done with community equity as a first principle.

*We should expect the new leadership to support the antiracist and health-promoting agenda that has formed the heart of faculty, staff, and student activism in this moment of dual pandemics.  In addition to the brass tack work of impact bargaining with the five campus unions, it is incumbent upon the new administration to prioritize its investments in the physical and mental health of all community members. With their social justice commitments, it seems reasonable to expect our upper administrators to take the lead in combatting the depredations of systemic racism as articulated (just for instance) in recruiting and retention of faculty of color, funding of antiracist scholarly and pedagogical initiatives, and reexamining the place of police on campus in a consequential way.  We can also expect the leadership to push back against the use of facial recognition technology and dangerous compulsory “webcam-on” pedagogical policies.  The community should also feel confident that the new administration will insist upon transparency with respect to our contract with such problematic vendors such as Salesforce, a company  that continues to “manage efficiencies” for Customs and Border Protection. While the previous administration consistently expanded the use of this platform (even after Faculty Council called for a pause) but hid the expansion under such sleight of hand rubrics as “Advising Case Management,” the social justice orientation of the new administration promises a fuller engagement with the issues raised by our use of Salesforce. The Salesforce question has taken on even more salience in the past few days, with news of its possible purchase of the messaging platform Slack—which presumably means that CBP agents will now be able to communicate more efficiently as they do their work of caging human beings and separating families.

This is your union: please tell us at the ways we all should encourage the new campus leadership to put its social justice values into action.


Jeffrey Melnick

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

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