Home / Table of Contents / Stan Rosenberg "People are realizing their kids can get the same education as at the privates for $22,000 less a year": UMass parent Carol Seitz of Woburn with her children Dana '99 and Kendra '03.
ARMED with little more than a desk, a telephone, a computer, and a map of Massachusetts with strategically placed pins in it, Lynne Wanamaker is a tactician in an ambitious, if still-fledgling, campaign. Its objective: to propel UMass Amherst into general recognition as an affordable world-class school.
As coordinator of campus advocacy programs, Wanamaker directs the UMass Ambassadors Network, a statewide web of volunteers who seek to spread the word about the campus. From her utilitarian headquarters in the Whitmore Administration Building, the intense young activist with the pixie grin tracks the progress of some 2,000 ground troops and works singlemindedly to recruit more from among the legions of UMass alumni and friends who are out there: by Wanamaker's estimates, more than 80,000 alumni within Massachusetts alone.
"I want to reach them all," she said excitedly one drizzly day this winter. She doesn't doubt that it can be done.
One dedicated footsoldier
The emptied coffee mugs were beginning to pile up on her desk, the banana next to the peanut-butter jar was beginning to turn brown, and students were sloshing their way toward dorms and bus stops on that rain-soaked afternoon as Wanamaker perched at her computer, checking her e-mail for news from Carol Seitz. A high-school Spanish teacher with twenty-nine years experience, Seitz is a UMass parent and one of thirty or so unit leaders in the ambassador corps. The pin marking Woburn on Wanamaker's strategic map: that's Seitz.
If Wanamaker wasn't a true believer when she assumed her post at UMass, Seitz would have turned her into one. "I'm so excited about her kids!" Wanamaker says. And Seitz says of Wanamaker, "It turns out we've got a lot in common. We e-mail each other every day."
Though Seitz lives in Woburn, the working-class town that brought lawyer Jan Schlichtmann `73 to national attention in the book and movie A Civil Action, she teaches in the upscale community of Newton. "Newton people did not used to look favorably on UMass," says Seitz. "But that is changing. People are realizing that their kids can get the same education at UMass that they can at the private colleges, for $10,000 a year instead of $32,000."
Seitz's son Dana graduates from UMass's Isenberg School of Management in May, and following a high-powered internship last summer, he's already secured a job with one of the nation's "Big Five" accounting firms, Arthur Andersen & Co. The company told him to take the summer off and plan to start in September, about the same time his sister Kendra heads off to UMass's new Commonwealth Honors College. "Dana will be starting at about two-thirds of what I'm making after twenty-nine years in teaching," says Seitz. "And he's got no debts."
Seitz says that throughout Dana's four years at UMass she was amazed by the personal attention he received. And, she said, "whenever I've made a phone call, I've got a call back." She admits that she felt some initial trepidation in seeing Dana, who graduated second in his high school class, off to UMass. "Mentally, there's the attitude that you get what you pay for," Seitz says. Even now, she adds, some of Kendra's teachers question her choice of UMass. "They say, `Don't you have any ambition?'"
But Seitz sees attitudes shifting. "Within the past month, my friend whose children went to private schools said publicly in the teachers' room that her family had made a huge mistake. `We should not have encouraged our kids to go to private schools.'" Seitz's friend told her. "`My children are so far in debt, and we are so far in debt, it is ruining our lives.'"
Early in February, Seitz visited the State House to tell her story to her state representative. He assured her that he always votes in favor of the full amount earmarked for UMass in the budget, so what was it, exactly, that she wanted to tell him? "When I got home I realized that what I wanted him to hear was what his support means in my children's lives and what it means in the lives of his constituents who go to UMass." She wanted him to push for UMass, she says, and she wasn't sure she'd made that clear. "He went to Harvard," she adds with some frustration.
The grand strategy
It's both a political campaign and a battle of perceptions that Wanamaker and the ambassadors are engaged in in concert, she points out, with like-minded partisans of UMass in the admissions office, the alumni clubs program, and elsewhere.
On the perceptual front, especially, they're working to obliterate whatever lingers of UMass's image as a "safety school," and to promote it as the number one candidate that Massachusetts families should consider when it's time to look at colleges. Having grown up in southern Connecticut, Wanamaker understands the dynamics involved. "UMass was well-regarded; UConn was not. It wasn't until the women's basketball team went undefeated that people would wear UConn T-shirts without shame."
When she first came to the job almost a year ago, Wanamaker asked Patricia VandenBerg, the assistant vice-chancellor for communications and marketing, roughly this: What is the single most effective tactic the ambassadors can deploy in the battle of perceptions? "Talk to their friends," VandenBerg answered without hesitation. "It's not about letters to the editor or anything else, they've just got to talk to their friends."
As Seitz's conversations in the teachers' room attest, the ambassadors are generally happy to oblige. But in addition to informal agitprop, they're also involved in an ongoing series of "actions" coordinated by Wanamaker.
Take for example the January "blitzing" of human resources managers across the state with literature reinforcing the idea that UMass grads make good hires. The ambassadors' marching orders were to deliver the UMass-touting literature directly to managers at their workplaces. "Half an hour. That's all it takes," Wanamaker said. She asks her footsoldiers to return a postcard confirming they've completed a mission, and had counted about fifty early in the campaign.
Come March, April, May, and beyond that's budget time at the State House, time for the footsoldiers to start lobbying their legislators to make the state's university system a budget priority. "The legislators are responsible for funding the public education system," Wanamaker said. "They've got to know how great this place is."
State House powerhouses
Amherst's Senator Stanley Rosenberg [see sidebar] knows how great UMass is because he went there. He not only went there, as he likes to point out, he spent a decade as a student, then was an employee for seven years, then served as an aide to Congressman John Olver when that former UMass chemistry professor held Rosenberg's present seat in the state senate.
Rosenberg even played sousaphone in the Minuteman Marching Band. If a more passionate patriot of the campus exists, let him or her step forward.
Rosenberg now serves as assistant majority leader of the state senate, and as chair of that chamber's Ways and Means Committee for the past three years, he almost single-handedly saw to it that UMass was funded at the highest possible level by "the General Court," as the Massachusetts legislature is formally known. And Rosenberg is at the very center of a series of changes at the State House with profound implications for the university.
In a state that boasts, among its more than 120 colleges and universities, two of the world's most prestigious institutions of higher learning in Harvard and MIT, UMass is a relative upstart. Founded as a school for agriculture in 1863, it attained university status only fifty-two years ago, and before the accelerated expansion of the 1960s, it was pretty much a sleepy little campus in western Massachusetts.
To the 80 percent of the state's population who live east of Worcester, moreover, Amherst is pretty far-flung. Not to mention, notes UMass history professor Ron Story, that Amherst has a kind of liberal, left-leaning, "Happy Valley" reputation in relation to the more culturally conservative urban centers. And at the Massachusetts State House, traditionally dominated by Boston-area Catholics who were educated somewhere else Boston College and its law school are especially well represented out of sight has often meant out of mind.
Consequently, when the severe economic downturn of the 1980s forced draconian cuts at the state level, public higher education the UMass system, state and community colleges took the biggest hit, proportionately, of any major budget item. The university has been trying to recover ever since; the toll exacted is still evident in a long list of deferred maintenance and construction projects.
Richard Conner `81, '95G, director of state government relations for the Amherst campus, says it's gotten somewhat easier in the past few years to make the case for support to legislators. One reason, he says, is the success of the men's basketball team in imprinting the name "UMass" on the public consciousness. Another is the equally stellar phalanx of generals on the legislative front: Rosenberg, senate president Thomas Birmingham, and former senate president William Bulger.
When, in 1995, having controlled the state senate for a decade and a half, the legendary Bulger resigned to accept the presidency of the UMass system, the office and the institution became instantly more interesting to the general public. People were curious about what kind of university president the colorful Boston pol would make; that alone has gotten people curious about UMass and open to hearing more about it, both Wanamaker and Conner say.
But Bulger did UMass another favor in supporting Birmingham as his successor in the senate. Massachusetts has one of the most tightly controlled legislatures in the country; its leaders exert a great deal of influence over the members. In Birmingham, Bulger chose a politician who has always had working-class issues at the top of his agenda. A Harvard graduate, Birmingham is also the son of a longshoreman, and steadfast in his commitment to a state university affordable to a broad public. "He sees education as opening the doors to opportunity," says Rosenberg of Birmingham. "It's what he experienced himself."
It was Birmingham who, in designating his own leadership team and potential successors, singled out Rosenberg as assistant majority leader. As long as Rosenberg, Birmingham, and Bulger remain in power, the university will continue to receive strong senate support.
A team effort
It's the lower chamber of the State House, the 160-member House of Representatives, where Wanamaker's ground troops can really make a difference. The house leadership does not view the university as a priority, and a minority of members only 20 legislators, fewer than 15 percent are UMass alumni. "People in the legislature, like everyone else, are driven by their experience," Rosenberg says. Amherst-area representatives, notably Ellen Story, Stephen Kulik, and Nancy Flavin, fight hard for the university within the house, and they're joined by peers from around the state and with ties to all five campuses in the UMass system. But they're not the ones electing the nearly 90 percent of their fellow representatives who didn't attend UMass. Their fellow representatives' constituents are.
"If legislators' own experiences aren't driving them to support the university, somebody else has to help drive them with their experience," says Rosenberg. "Those of us who are graduates are living proof of the university's value we're living anecdotes." As long as legislators are bombarded with competing requests, Rosenberg points out, UMass is unlikely to be a high priority for non-alumni legislators unless a significant number of constituents like Seitz have made their cases to them.
Once Seitz got home from that inconclusive visit to her legislator, she decided not to leave it at that. So she followed up with a letter saying, "I'm telling my friends in Woburn and Arlington that you support UMass." She added that she'd be watching to see that he continues to support the university and that he'd be "getting a lot of e-mails from me."
Rosenberg, on hearing an account of Seitz's action, nods approvingly. "Put simply," he says, "you have to make the case that `You're with me, I'm with you. You're not with me, I'm not with you.'
It's a team effort," he says, and concludes with his signature verve: "We're on the map, and we're on the move."
In the heart of his constituency: state senator Stan Rosenberg '77 D-Amherst.
T HERE ARE THREE THINGS that I think make Stan truly happy," says state representative Ellen Story, D-Amherst, a close friend of Amherst state senator Stanley Rosenberg.
"One is having good ingredients and a good kitchen and being able to cook. It's a way for him to relax, and an antidote to being a workaholic."
Being surrounded by people, "responding and bantering," is the second thing, Story says. And the third is being in Russia, where she and several others accompanied him on a trip two years ago.
"He said that because he was a foster child and doesn't know a great deal about his biological family, he doesn't know where his family is from. But he has a strong sense that they are from the areas of Russia he has been in, and when he's there he feels he's come home."
There are a few other things about Rosenberg that, for his many constituents who know him, may not even need saying. First, he's not the kind of politician who likes to bare all though the forty-nine-year-old bachelor, who lives quietly in an Echo Hill townhouse and a Boston apartment, often gets a laugh by portraying himself as the senator from the Happy Valley.
Also, the droll, lovable-looking senator and his staff are known as some of the hardest-working people in the State House. During the three years he chaired the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, eighteen-hour days were de rigeur for this self-described "prototypical, if undiagnosed" attention deficit disorder type. "I always worked two jobs as a kid," observed Rosenberg recently. "Whatever I'm working on I do until it's done, and it's never done."
Rosenberg and his staff always return phone calls, and he himself always tells it like it is. Say he doesn't think constituents who come to see him are going to get the appropriation on the state budget they're plugging for. He'll tell them exactly that. The State House is like a sandbox, he once told a trio of social workers who had come during his office hours to advocate for their cause. Lawmakers throw sand at each other on behalf of whatever has made it to the top of their respective lists. When the dust settles, they have laws and a budget.
For his own part, Rosenberg has always thrown the sand on behalf of UMass.
"People often underestimate his tenacity, because he's outwardly such a likable guy." says fellow lawmaker and member of the "campus delegation," Representative Stephen Kulik of Worthington. "Stan is relatively soft-spoken and more of a cerebral-type person, so they underestimate just how tough a political fighter he can be for something such as the university."
Rosenberg grew up in Malden and Revere, graduated from Revere High School, and came to UMass at the age of seventeen. He'd been accepted elsewhere, but UMass was the only school to offer him financial aid, without which he couldn't have entered college at the time. "For many people, delaying results in never doing it," Rosenberg said. "So UMass really opened the door of opportunity for me."
He liked UMass so much, he says, "that I took a whole ten years of their time." Attending part-time from 1967 until he graduated in 1977, Rosenberg majored in education, played in the band, and sold grinders from a truck on the side. (At one point in 1967 he was employing about sixty other students.) He also ran a restaurant back in Marlborough for a while. After graduation and before embarking on his political career, he spent seven years on campus developing adult education programs.
A final thing about Rosenberg: he's an optimist. In his line of work, he says, he's exposed often enough
to people pointing
out shortcomings. "You've got to remind them of the progress, or they'll forget about it and get themselves too depressed to go on," he says. "You have to celebrate the progress first."
As he often does, Rosenberg points to UMass as an example. "At one point the university had 4,000 students. At one point we didn't have a single academic department in the top ten. Now we have over a dozen of them."
As he does not often do, Rosenberg refers to his own childhood. "I think a lot of kids who grew up in foster care develop that optimistic attitude," he says, "because it's not an optimistic situation you find yourself in. I try to see the opportunities in situations.
"I haven't always," he adds. "But, fortunately, I have enough times to see it's a workable way to live." - MC