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The Point: Moonlight in Vermont

12/7/2020

Greetings, Colleagues:

It is not the usual style of The Point, but how about we start with a little good news this week? 

The FSU Executive Committee wants to join with what is no doubt a chorus of voices welcoming Professor Jane Adams as Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Dean Adams is a tireless advocate for the core urban mission of the University of Massachusetts Boston and has served at UMB, in the Psychology Department and the CLA Dean’s office, for more than 30 years with energy, devotion, and wisdom.  In these challenging days, it provides some comfort to know that Dean Adams’ steady hand will be on the tiller of the largest college of the university.

This announcement is especially welcome as we digest the devastating news reaching us this week from the University of Vermont.  There, another college dean (also from a Psychology Department—a specialist in the neurobiology of fear—c’mon 2020 scriptwriters!), has announced the elimination of two dozen majors at their College of Arts and Sciences.  This destruction of CAS at University of Vermont is being overseen by Dean Bill Falls—renamed by one wag on Twitter as Bill "the Ax" Falls. The Vermont story is a tragedy in itself: you can email president@uvm.edu and provost.office@uvm.edu and william.falls@uvm.edu if you have thoughts you would like to share!

The news out of Vermont also has a number of cautionary tales to tell the rest of us in public higher education—not least of which has to do with administrative overreach. Perhaps most striking about the Vermont story is how unilateral these austerity cuts are: Dean Falls has (remarkably) let himself be quoted as saying he could not figure out a way to involve faculty in discussions about these budget matters: “Maybe people smarter than me could have thought of a way to do that, but I couldn’t come up with one.”

[Stares in shared governance.] 

All the while the leaders of the faculty senate and faculty union make it clear that they stand ready to engage with upper administration on better ways forward.

COVID-era attacks on faculty (and staff and students) don’t come out of the blue: in Vermont (with its grotesque incentive based budgeting) it has been clear for at least a few years that these departments—including geology! in the Green Mountain State!—would be targeted.  STEM faculty at Marquette University felt called upon recently to issue an open letter addressed to upper administrators there who are poised similarly to gut the humanities on that campus. The story coming out of University of Colorado at Boulder is also bleak, with the recent announcement that “incentivized” retirement means a further casualization of the teaching faculty. (Sidenote: apparently faculty should be very alarmed if anyone in administration uses any version of the word “incentive.”) Here is something the interim dean at UCB actually said about this assault “on tenure, shared governance and the notion of higher education as a public good”: “Never waste a good pandemic.”  Never. Waste. A. Good. Pandemic. Granted, this interim dean has limited options, given the budgeting structure in Colorado, but the casual cruelty cannot be gainsaid.   And the crucial lesson remains: whatever is being sold as the unthinkable result of the pandemic—like doing away with tenure at a small college—has been in the works for years.

Even in this dark time there are plenty of glimmers of hope: hence "Moonlight in Vermont" up top. But we have to remain vigilant with our attention, agile in our thinking, diligent in our action. We have mentioned in this space a few times recently how faculty have tried to challenge university administration about budget (and other matters) around the country: we remain inspired, for instance, by our colleagues at Salem State University who link a deep-dive diagnosis of university financing with important framings of broader political concerns (e.g. progressive taxation).  Along with our usual work in the classroom, our own research agendas, and our regular service burdens, we will all have to put our shoulder to the wheel and push back against the austerity wave in our Commonwealth.

This is your union: please tell us at fsu@umb.edu how you think we can work together to promote the value of the work we do at UMB.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Melnick

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage

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