I'm writing to express my hope that the Senate, which has traditionally been an ally of UMass Amherst and public higher education, will stop blocking the $10.9 million that the University needs to fully fund last year's collective bargaining agreements. The University took a substantial budget cut this year which the Chancellor did not pass through to academic units. But it's disrupted plans for faculty hiring and renovations needed for new faculty.
I've been particularly concerned to see the collective bargaining agreements held up against student fee increases, as if they were the only reason. Increasing labor costs, which as you know are largely just cost-of-living increases, are only one of several drivers of increasing costs at the University.
One crucial driver has been the need to replace our aging buildings, which the University has undertaken in the absence of adequate capital funding. The chronic under-funding of the campus by the state left the University, at one point, with nearly two billion dollars of deferred maintenance. Judicious use of new construction has enabled the campus to decommission old, failing buildings and side-step the bills for their deferred maintenance. But Massachusetts is one of the only states that expects future student's tuition and fees to pay off the academic buildings.
Another driver has been the need to increase student financial aid: federal and state aid used to cover a significant part of the total, but have stayed almost flat and are now just a fraction of the need. UMass is paying more than 70% of the needs-based financial aid -- mostly out of other students' tuition.
I've wanted to tell you about the great sense of common purpose that exists currently on the UMass Amherst campus. We have a great chancellor and I've never seen the faculty so united. (Well, except perhaps, when Jack Wilson tried to foist his 'one university' plan on the campus.) OK. So, I've never seen the campus so united *behind the administration*.
I'm also encouraged by the change of leadership in the system office. I know you've expressed concerns to me in the past about a lack of transparency in the UMass system. But I think this is a moment when a new UMass president has an opportunity to make changes and take things in a new direction. But not while trying to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessor.
I hope you can find a way to resolve this problem and remove the cloud hanging over the University. It's a real obstacle to getting on with our work.
Thanks much for your service and continued support of UMass Amherst.
- Steven D. Brewer's blog
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