The MA legislature's Joint Committee on Higher Education has been touring all the public higher ed campuses across the state. Last Friday they came to UMass Boston. PSU president Anneta Argyres was allowed to attend the session for the legislative representatives to hear from faculty; no session had been set up for them to hear from staff.
Interim Provost McDermott started off the session saying that UMB is an undervalued gem; she went on to say that our financial situation has stabilized and, other than some "anxiety and angst" on the part of some staff, all those troubles are behind us. When it was Anneta's turn to speak, this is the message she delivered to the Joint Committee Co-Chairs Senator Gobi and Representative Roy:
"Welcome to UMB. I’m Anneta Argyres, a 14 year employee of UMB and the president of the Professional Staff Union. I completely agree with our Provost--UMass Boston is a gem, and it should be fully funded so that we can advance our urban mission. I must disagree with the Provost however when she says that our problems are behind us, and that there's only a bit of anxiety and angst among our staff.
We have about 600 employees in the professional staff bargaining unit – these are the people who run our admissions and registrar offices, advise our students, staff our academic offices and research centers, run our labs and our IT systems, and more. A mere few years ago there were 100 more of us.
And that’s really what I want you to be aware of. Because of the repeated cuts on campus – I believe we’re now in the 4th year of cuts – the campus has eliminated about 100 professional staff positions, and probably a similar number of classified staff jobs. At the same time, our student body has grown and we’ve opened our first dorm.
The impacts of the loss of jobs are what you’d probably imagine: overwhelming workloads, increasing stress on staff (and the health issues that go with that), increasing staff turnover and decreased staff morale. Also, during this same period, all the gains we’d made on campus improving our student retention have been lost. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Representative Roy came to campus last year and heard directly from a standing-room-only crowd of students and staff, so this is all familiar to him.
The question I often face when I talk to legislators like yourselves about this situation is, “What can be done?”
There are two things we need you to do.
First, we need you to dramatically increase the funding for all of public higher education. This needs to be done so we can reduce the cost of tuition so more of our youth and adults in MA can go to college without amassing debilitating debt. And it needs to done so we can offer the programs and supports that our students need and deserve so they can succeed. Passing the Cherish Act and providing relief from the construction debt on this campus are essential.
The second thing we need you to do is ensure that all those increased funds actually go to providing the services and front-line workers that our students depend on. We are very tired on this campus, and across the UMass system, of hearing about another management consultant being hired to tell us what we already know; of hearing about a new upper administration position being created; of hearing about new innovative programs that eat up hundreds of millions of dollars, when we don’t have the fundamental staffing and programming our students need. Work with us to ensure that the public dollars you invest in higher education are spent on hiring and retaining the front-line staff we need, and on reducing student debt.
I’m very happy to meet with any of you in your offices to discuss this at more length.
One final comment: You may have noticed that I’m the only staff member here. When we heard that you were coming to campus, I reached out to our Interim Chancellor to see how we could be involved. I was told that you all asked to speak only with Faculty and Students. So I was allowed only one spot for a staff person. I thought you should be aware of this so you can clear up any miscommunication on other campuses, and to ensure that you hear from campus staff.
Thank you for coming to our campus, and thank you for taking the concerns of our staff seriously."