Independent Working Group on the Future of UMass Boston


UMass Boston is in the process of evolving into a private university, and it is doing so under the guise of the administration’s so-called “strategic plan.”

The push toward privatization of public facilities is now fully underway in the United States, whether under the sponsorship of “conservative” Republicans or “liberal” Democrats. Though privatization has been going on for a generation, it has accelerated dramatically since the financial crash of 2008, the 700 billion dollar federal bailout of banks and other financial institutions, and the ensuing Great Recession.

What is the Administration’s “Strategic Plan?”

” We are privatizing, whether we like it or not.”

Robert Manning, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees
Late September, 2009

These developments have contributed to the enormous expansion of government debt, and the debt has been used by Republican Tea Party conservatives and Democratic Party liberals alike as a reason for intensifying the already-advanced privatization of public resources in the United State, including libraries, fire departments, government jobs, public K-12 schools, and public colleges and universities. Of course the conservatives pursue privatization enthusiastically, while the liberals appear to give in to it reluctantly. But though the rhetoric may be different, the reality is the same.

In states like Wisconsin and Michigan, the conservatives have been the privatizers. But in Massachusetts, privatization occurs under liberal auspices. It was the overwhelmingly Democratic Massachusetts legislature that reduced public funding for the UMass System from 75 percent of the University’s budget in 1985 to 28 percent today. And it is the liberal administration of UMass Boston that is adapting to this funding disaster by accelerating privatization of the university through its “strategic plan.”

The university webpage devoted to the strategic plan is, of course, designed to promote it to the public, politicians, students, faculty, and staff. According to the website, the purpose of the plan is to guide the university, between now and 2025,  in fulfilling “its mission as the student-centered urban public research university of the 21st century.”  This somewhat grandiose language is in turn taken from the Mission and Vision Statement, as revised in 2010. Anyone familiar with the history of UMass Boston will recognize in the qualifying phrase, “student-centered urban public,” a nod to UMass Boston’s traditional “urban mission” to provide an affordable education to immigrant, minority, and working-class students resident in Boston and its environs. However, the addition of the words “research university of the 21st century” indicate that something new is afoot.

When we read through the  various documents related to the strategic plan, we see that turning UMass Boston into “the” research university of the 21st century involves increasing its student body from 15,000 to 25,000 students over the next 14 years; spending hundreds of millions of dollars putting up new buildings, including the Integrated Sciences Center, dormitory buildings, and academic buildings that will include classrooms able to accomodate from100-500 students; attracting “first rate” research faculty, capable of getting corporate and government grants; and expanding the number of programs that grant doctorates. Inevitably, the result will be a transformation of the UMass student body, since such a “research high institution” (a Carnegie Foundation classification) will act as magnet for well-prepared students of middle- and upper-class background, whose families will be able to afford the substantially higher tuition and fees that are sure to come.

In other words, while the strategic plan pays lip service to “the urban mission,” the concrete steps it plans to take will sweep that mission into the dustbin of academic history. It will do this by privatizing our public resources, by substituting private money, especially high tuition and fees, and money from receiving grants, selling patents, and participating in business partnerships, for a state budgetary contribution that administrators obviously expect to shrink to zero or near it.

The administrators at UMass Boston cannot be blamed for creating the pressure to privatize. That accomplishment belongs to the governors and legistators of the Commonwealth. But the administrators can be blamed for adapting to that pressure all too quickly and thoroughly, instead of mobilizing the opposition of students, their families, faculty, staff, alumni, and other citizens of Massachusetts.

What the administration has failed to do, we must do in its place. On this website, you will find resources for learning about and resisting privatization of our educational commons.

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