Earlier this summer, the University of Massachusetts Boston announced a budget deficit of about $22.3 million, and will be cutting up to one third of faculty and some staff. Cuts to faculty primarily affect adjunct professors, whose contracts may be terminated before the coming fall semester. UMass Boston is one of four Massachusetts state schools facing cuts this year.
There are over 1,200 faculty at UMass, and as no final decisions have been made, those at risk of being laid off have been unable to plan their lessons and some are hesitant to accept other job offers. The school has also threatened layoffs and furloughs to non-faculty staff.
These system-wide cuts are part of the systematic defunding of public education by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Since 2001, the Massachusetts legislature has cut higher education spending by 25%. In 2013, this resulted in the state spending $200 million more on its prison system than on its public colleges (Washington Post, 10/5/2015).
In the midst of the cuts, UMass Boston tuition is expected to rise by 6% this coming year, at the same time as an increase in student enrollment. Students will likely be paying more money for fewer course options and larger classes. Some students may not even be able to graduate on time due to cancelled classes. UMass is also considering charging a fare for the university shuttle, which would further hurt students at the commuter campus.
For comparison: in the baby boomer generation, students could feasibly pay their way through state college working a minimum wage job and graduate debt-free. Now that is completely impossible, even at an alleged working-class university like UMass Boston. The continued existence of capitalism means the continuation of cuts to public funding. If this continues there will no longer be any public budget at all.
Over the years, UMass has increasingly drawn public funding away from students and towards more profitable projects. In the past few years the school has built two new buildings and is in the process of building more, including its first ever dormitory for freshmen.
At the same time as these investments in expensive projects, the UMass system continues to bolster administrative salaries. UMass Boston chancellor Keith Motley receives a $355,059 yearly income and a bonus up to $71,012, as well as a free car, housing, and free family tuition. Meanwhile, resources that benefit the student body, on-campus workers, and faculty continue to be cut.
Across the country, schools, libraries, community centers, public parks, and other public facilities are being drained of funding, while for-profit corporations continue to find ways to take public money and avoid taxes. As the income gap continues to widen, there becomes less public money generated by taxes.
The majority-Democrat Massachusetts State Legislature is responsible for slashing the UMass budget. Massachusetts’ economy is outperforming the rest of the U.S. (Boston Globe, 7/29/2016). The money exists to fully fund the entire UMass system and public education. What’s missing is the political will to tax big business to raise the necessary funds.
This is not the first time students, faculty, and staff have faced, and fought budget cuts. It seems that every budget since the recession began has cut the UMass system. The strategy of electing and lobbying Democrats in the state legislature should by now be considered a failure. Building struggle on campus and the community has managed to win some small gains, particularly when students unite with the unions of faculty and staff. These struggles have consistently run up against the state budget and the Democratic politicians supported by unions. As part of our strategy to raise the stakes, we must be ready to run independent candidates against those who cut public education.
Away from the corruption of establishment politics, candidates in an independent party of the 99% would have the freedom to advocate for tuition-free state colleges, reasonable class sizes, and a large variety of course and degree options. Faculty and staff should feel secure in their jobs and not have to worry about their hours, salaries, or wages being cut. This is an unpopular idea among both Democratic and Republican parties, because both of them have the interests of the 1% in mind. That is why the 99% needs their own party! Socialist Alternative has launched Socialist Students – including a chapter at UMass Boston – through which college students can become more involved in struggles and politics. Socialist Students aims to connect student-oriented demands, such as free tuition and the abolition of student debt, to a larger program of fighting for the interests of the 99%. We will be connecting these struggles with the struggle for full funding for the UMass system and all public education from birth through college!