President Meehan Makes Case for UMass in Inaugural State of the University Address

UMass president calls five-campus university system the “engine that drives daily life” in Massachusetts
Martin T. Meehan
Martin T. Meehan

BOSTON – Calling the University of Massachusetts the “lifeblood of the economy” in the state, President Marty Meehan outlined the benefit of the public research university in his inaugural State of the University address.

Approximately 300 people attended the event hosted by the UMass Foundation at the UMass Club in Boston. Among them were Gov. Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, members of the UMass Board of Trustees, and students, faculty and staff from the five UMass campuses.

In the speech, Meehan highlighted the economic and workforce development might of UMass, citing data that included:

  • 360,000 students, alumni or employees residing in Massachusetts, meaning one in 10 households in the state have a direct connection to the university
  • 17,000 UMass graduates annually, with 30 percent in STEM fields
  • $632 million dollars in annual research expenditures, with UMass bringing more than $300 million in federal grants into the state per year
  • $6.2 billion in annual economic impact – a 12-to-1 return on its state appropriation

Meehan spent a significant portion of his speech drawing the distinction between UMass, a public research university, and other colleges and universities in the state.

Noting that enrollment of Massachusetts residents has declined at the state’s top-eight-ranked private institutions by 72 percent over the last 30 years, Meehan said that UMass is now educating nearly three times as many residents as those schools combined.

“We are, with increasing responsibility, the institution educating Massachusetts residents,” he said. “We are serving Massachusetts in a way that our private competitors no longer do.”

Meehan also acknowledged the importance of maintaining affordability, saying that in the current fiscal environment the university will continue to struggle to hold tuition at or near the rate of inflation.

He outlined the university’s efforts to increase student scholarships through fundraising and improve pathways in collaboration with the state’s community colleges, including the Baker Administration’s Commonwealth Commitment program.

Acknowledging that student debt is growing across all sectors of higher education, Meehan stressed the importance of financial literacy for students, and announced a plan to provide free online financial literacy education to all UMass, state university, community college and high school students in Massachusetts through a collaboration between the UMass Donahue Institute and UMass Online.

Meehan highlighted the talent and perseverance of UMass students and alumni, calling out some who were in attendance, including:

  • Noreen “Chioma” Okwara, who was born in Kenya to Nigerian parents, emigrated to Lowell in search of a better education, enrolled at Middlesex Community College and transferred to UMass Boston where she studied socio-economic barriers to quality healthcare before enrolling at UMass Medical School. Okwara is set to graduate from UMass Medical School in June.
  • Patrice Charlot, a recipient of a scholarship established by Gov. Baker, who was the first in her family to attend college and graduated from UMass Amherst in 2015. Charlot works at Bottom Line in Boston, a non-profit that helps low-income and first-generation students get to college.
  • Renata Teodoro, a senior at UMass Boston who arrived in the U.S. from Brazil as an undocumented immigrant at 6 years old and whose family was later deported. A beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Teodoro established United We Dream, the largest immigrant-youth-led organization in the nation, to help empower and protect others like her.

Discussing the importance of UMass’ global community on the same day that the Trump Administration released details of a new executive order banning travel from certain countries, Meehan said, “Our international scholars help us solve global problems, and that work results in intercultural understandings that make us stronger and safer.” He added, “Public research universities, especially those as important to their states as UMass, won’t stand idly by while federal policies undermine our mission so directly. We must stand up and speak out.”

UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Robert J. Manning introduced Meehan, saying “I have never met anyone with so much energy, passion, competitive spirit, and love for his alma mater.”

The event featured live musical performances from students from the university’s four undergraduate campuses: UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, UMass Dartmouth and UMass Lowell.

Meehan concluded the address by tying UMass’ current efforts to its roots as an institution established in 1863 following passage of the Land-Grant College Act.

“We are the University of Massachusetts. The University working for Massachusetts,” he said. “We have a vision of a Commonwealth where success and prosperity is within the reach of all of our citizens, and we are working tirelessly to make that vision a reality.”