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The Point: Movement Politics


Greetings, Colleagues.

A few weeks back we noted that our community will welcome a new chancellor in a little over a month and a permanent provost at the turn of the year: our job, as FSU members, is to make sure they, and the rest of our campus and system administration, understand what our campus priorities are and how we plan to manifest them. We promised to take up questions surrounding systemic racism at UMB, particularly in the arenas of money, metrics, and mobility. We have reached our final week of this cluster: mobility.  Here we want to raise questions about the politics of movement in two arenas—student success and faculty of color recruitment and retention.

It is interesting that in the last days of her administration our interim chancellor has been working assiduously to ensure that a big part of her legacy at UMB will be her enthusiastic embrace of online education as a cure for existing disparities.  First came her thinkpiece (published a week before the system president announced a partnership with Brandman University to provide the “scaling up” of online education in the name of UMass); this was soon joined by a puff piece about the relationship of UMass to Shorelight—which recruits international students to graduate programs.  Once again Chancellor Newman suggested that the move to online this spring should be read as a net positive: “We’re at the beginning of a real revolution here.” 

Of course what the interim chancellor is touting as online education—built from the ground up, often largely asynchronous—is not what most of us have been doing this past spring or will be doing this fall: that might better be called “emergency remote teaching.” (Over the summer our upper administration has given every indication that it is energetically pushing a pedagogical agenda for the fall built around these “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter®” synchronous class meetings.)  We know that moving to remote has exacerbated existing inequities for students and faculty.  Access to the proper equipment, stable internet connection, and healthy workspace remains a challenge for many. 

The FSU Executive Committee understands that the interim chancellor believes she is exploring innovative solutions to current challenges but she seems more inclined to consult with profit-driven EdTech companies and not her own faculty. Her proposal to expand online education in this moment of dual pandemics represents what Anna Kornbluh and others, building on the work of Naomi Klein, have described as a kind of academic shock doctrine. The interim chancellor’s work seems to suggest that the university’s main function is workforce development; we remain committed to a vision of higher education that includes supporting our students as they become engaged and educated citizens.  A few of our colleagues at CUNY have written powerfully about education, austerity, and mobility at their university. The call for visionary action in this time of multiple crises is hard to argue with.

If UMass Boston is to fulfill the central function outlined by our CUNY colleagues—to serve as an engine of economic, social, and cultural mobility—we must have a faculty that represents, in all crucial senses of the word, its students.  The FSU Executive Committee will soon issue a response to the Faculty of Color report of 2019 which makes it clear that Faculty of Color face significant disadvantages in their bids for tenure and promotion at UMB.  This report will make a number of suggestions for redress including anti-racism training for senior faculty, chairs, and administrators, and the creation of a university ombudsperson. The challenges outlined in the Executive Committee response arise from deeply institutionalized structures and practices and will require a mobilization of resources and major paradigm shifts. 

Suffice to say, the headlong rush to online education does not augur excellence in education for our students or a more racially and economically just workplace. Among other likely effects of the creation of UMass Online is the further casualization of our teaching ranks and the intensification of existing racial divides: current data suggests that the NTT workforce is considerably less diverse than the tenure stream faculty. 

Inside Higher Ed referred to the UMass Online gambit as a “Hail Mary” pass and it is hard not to read it as part of a “thoughts and prayers” ritual on the part of system administrators.   Our students deserve better than these empty platitudes and false promises.  Our job is to fight on campus and on Beacon Hill for the funding necessary to (re)create quality public higher education for the students of Commonwealth and good jobs for its citizens.

This is your union: what are your ideas for fighting back against these forces of academic disaster capitalism? Let us know at


Jeffrey Melnick

Graduate Program Director, American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

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