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The Role of Public Higher Education and UMass Boston


The Role of Public Higher Education and UMass Boston

Edited remarks by Marlene Kim from an address given at UMB on October 4, 2018

Public higher education serves the public good: it benefits more than just the college graduate.  Because it helps the larger community, we should subsidize higher education more than we do so today. 

How does it benefit others?  Wages increase from college educations: college graduates earn millions more during their lifetime compared to non-college graduates.  They pay higher taxes as a result to their state and to the federal government.  Crime is reduced because college graduates are more likely to be employed and are less likely to commit crimes.  In college, we teach people how to think critically, so we produce informed citizens who can make important decisions at the ballot box.  College education increases productivity. It’s no wonder that the post World War II boom was in part due to  the GI bill that gave free college educations to war veterans.  Thus, public higher education is an economic development model for Boston, which is why federal and state money should fund public higher education. 

The state and federal government especially should fund UMass Boston.  UMass Boston is unique.  We are a majority minority campus.  We serve English as a Second Language learners, low-income students, and first generation students.  We serve the underserved. 

By providing access to public higher education, to those who otherwise would not have access to this, we help to reduce racial and income inequality in the Commonwealth.   Because most of our students stay in Massachusetts and in the Boston area, we add an educated workforce to the Commonwealth. We provide workers here, so employers don’t have to recruit as many out-of-state workers.  We increase productivity and economic growth in Massachusetts. 

We educate students no one else will educate.  One of my students had been homeless.  One had no heat.  We perform miracles. 

UMass Boston was founded because in 1964, 1400 qualified students who lived in Boston were rejected (because of inadequate space) at UMass Amherst (the only UMass university at the time).  UMass Boston was created to provide an affordable university education to metropolitan Boston residents, and to apply university-quality research to critical urban issues. 

In 1966, at the Founding Day convocation, UMass Boston’s Chancellor John W. Ryan read our university’s statement of purpose.  He said, “We have an obligation to see that the opportunities we offer are equal to the best that private schools have to offer.” 

Are we doing this?  Are we achieving these goals? 

As many of you know, UMass Boston has been in a funding crisis for two years.  Non-tenure track faculty were not reappointed two years ago.  Staff were cut last year.  This year, budgets are being cut for Centers and Institutes--the same Centers and Institutes that were created and charged with applying “university quality research to critical urban issues.” 

When we should have more money because students need more support, the opposite occurs.  We have less money.  We have been begging for money from the legislature, but this was not appropriated last summer.  They said there was no money. 

As most of you know, when UMass Boston was first built in 1974, the cement was flawed, and the university started falling apart and continues to do so.  We needed new buildings and a new parking garage since the latter was housed in the substructure that was falling apart in these original buildings. 

We never received money from the state for these buildings.  We received some money but not all of it.  Most came as loans, but we have to pay the principal and interest for this.  As I told the Board of Trustees, it’s as if a contractor builds your house, and after this house immediately started falling apart, they say, “We’ll build you a new house but you have to pay additional principal and interest on this new house that replaces the flawed one we just built for you.” 

This is what the State, UMass System, and Board of Trustees have been telling us: that we have to pay for our new garage and buildings and the principal and interest on these, even though these are needed because of the original flawed construction.  It’s immoral to tell UMass Boston that we have to pay for our new buildings and for our new garage--that students, faculty, and staff must pay for something we had nothing to do with. 

We urge the State to make good on their promise to provide an affordable university education and apply university-quality research to critical urban issues, and that we fulfill our obligation to offer opportunities that are equal to the best that private schools have to offer.  Please join me in this.