Holub vs. Abby and Sharla

Dear Abby and Sharla,

I’ve written to you several times over the last few months to try to
keep you posted on the ongoing fiscal crisis here at UMass Amherst and
how we as a university community are responding to it.

There has been speculation and assertions made about the budget plans
that, frankly, aren’t accurate. Today, I want to tell you what we know
about the current budget situation, and to provide you with as many
facts as I can. It is critically important that we as a university
community communicate openly and honestly, and work together to face the
serious challenges ahead. As you know, we’ve created a Budget Planning
Task Force of faculty, students and staff to assist in this process and
to make recommendations – and they have been hard at work discussing
budget cuts, fee increases, reorganization plans, potential layoffs, and
other issues tied to the upcoming budget year. I expect to receive
additional recommendations from this group soon and will, of course,
share with you my decisions on how we go forward.

We are also very closely monitoring the federal stimulus package, and
have worked very hard with our federal delegation and now with state
officials to ensure that UMass Amherst receives as much support from the
stimulus plan as possible. Our goal is to use this funding to mitigate
as much as possible the impact of our budget crisis on fees and to do
all we can to avoid layoffs in our faculty and staff ranks. While we are
pursuing all options, we also must recognize that the next fiscal year
and beyond will bring exceptional challenges. In fact, in the next
fiscal year, we are facing a budget deficit of $46 million. This deficit
will require significant budget cuts, as well as, unfortunately, fee
increases. No one likes raising fees, I certainly don’t, but our current
fiscal realities, and our commitment to maintaining the quality of a
UMass Amherst education, make this unavoidable.

In the proposal for fee increases, we are doing all we can to mitigate
the impact on students.

For undergraduate students, there are provisions to minimize the impact
of the proposed fee increase – particularly for our students with the
greatest financial need. The proposed fee increase of $1,500 a year is
coupled with a new and enhanced package of financial aid. It will
produce new financial aid funding of about $7 million – with roughly a
third of the money raised by the fee going directly back to students.

In other areas, the impacts of fee increases have been overstated. For
example, of the approximately 5,750 graduate students, 90 percent will
not see any increase in their mandatory fees or tuition. This fact has
been overlooked by many when discussing fee increases. The bottom line,
so to speak, is that our proposal is to increase curriculum fees by $520
a year for full-time, in-state graduate students and $1,020 for
full-time, out-of-state graduate students. Fewer than 600 of these
students pay any tuition or curriculum fees.

Opponents of the fee increase aren’t taking into account the fiscal
realities. We’re still facing serious budget cuts even with the fee
increase, and disastrous cuts if we don’t see this increase. For next
fiscal year, even with the increase, we are likely to be forced to cut
50 faculty positions, 30 lecturers, and 150 teaching assistants,
although we are hoping the stimulus funding will reduce or eliminate the
need for these actions. These cuts would come with painful reductions in
everything from student life programs to maintenance. Without the fee
increase, things will be even bleaker.

Even in light of this, there are people who vehemently oppose any fee
increases – even as we deal with the real impact of layoffs, cancelled
classes and curtailed programs that such a cut will bring to our campus.
Opponents of a fee increase speak passionately of the harm that such
increases will do. I understand that view, and join these people in not
wanting to raise the costs of an education. But where we part company is
in what we are willing to do to achieve that goal. I stand with those
students, faculty, and staff who have urged me to do all I can to defend
and protect the quality of the education that we offer. I agree with
them that doing grave damage to our institution in this time of great
economic uncertainty is the wrong answer now, and the wrong answer for
students and for our future.

Those advocating no fee increase haven’t offered a viable alternative to
massive cuts that would destroy the quality of our campus. The only
“solution” they offer is that we should all advocate harder for state
dollars, but that strategy is not apt to be successful in our current
economic climate. But I do agree we must fight for our campus, and we
must make every effort to gain support. I encourage those of you who
love UMass Amherst and value your education to get in touch with your
state and federal representatives and urge them to support UMass. And I
encourage you to talk to others on campus that oppose the fee increase,
and urge them to take a more reasoned approach to the reality we face.

Personally, I do not want to see a large increase in fees; I agree
philosophically that the University is a public good and should be
better supported by the citizens of the Commonwealth. But I also have to
face the reality of our economic crisis, while at the same time trying
to preserve the quality educational experience that our students want
and deserve.

Please join me in saving quality education on the Amherst campus. Thank
you for your help.

All my best,
Chancellor Robert C. Holub

p.s.

As you probably know, we negotiated several years ago an agreement with
all campus unions that allows the administration to increase annual
parking fees based on prior increases in unionized employees’ total
compensation.

This agreement, based on fiscal year 2008 compensation increases, would
result in an approximate 4 percent increase in parking fees for fiscal
2010. However, in recognition of the difficulty that such an increase
would present for our faculty and staff in the face of the
Commonwealth’s inability to fund any salary increases this year, and
the likelihood that it will fund only modest increases next year, we
have decided to impose a freeze on parking fees for next year. As a
result, fiscal 2010 parking rates for all faculty and staff will be
unchanged from those currently in effect.

We know that this is a modest benefit, but we hope it will be of some
help to our faculty and staff, whose continuing efforts on behalf of
the campus are deeply appreciated.

Dear Chancellor Holub

We are appalled that you have the audacity to send one message to students requesting we stop complaining about fee increases for our EDUCATION and another message to faculty and staff, one day later, alerting them not to worry about fee increases for PARKING.

The message to faculty and staff acknowledges that current economic constraints make it difficult to pay more for basic university services such as parking. However, the email to students chastises us for making the same claim. The emails send a very clear and sad message; this is not a student first university. As students, staff, and faculty how can we work together to manage budgetary constraints without sacrificing access to education?

The primary function of yesterday’s email was to divide students. His message limits the discursive possibilities for protest, assuming the only motive for action is self-interest. Since it is not in our immediate individual self-interest to protest we must be misinformed.

Your email to students painted dissent in black and white terms – either you love the University and you support fee increases or you are a self-interested and misinformed protester. As graduate students, we are protesting because we are concerned about the larger demographic shifts that increased tuition and fees will engender as lower class students are priced out of public higher education–this includes undergraduates as well as many of us.

To tell us that an increase in curriculum fees does not affect us, either as a group or as individuals, is not reasonable. Increasing tuition and fees targets the most vulnerable group of graduate students; those who do not have funding. For departments which do fund TA and TO positions, increasing fees decreases the number of TA/TO positions which can be funded as it increases the cost per position. This pushes more students into the unsupported position where they ARE paying for curriculum fees, not to mention the effects it will have on the quality of undergraduate education.

For grant funded positions, increasing overhead (via increased fees) means that faculty will have to chose between scaling back projects or reducing the number of hours they can pay their research assistants. It also limits the number of research assistants faculty can hire in the future. Again pushing more graduate students into the position to pay curriculum fees.

The first e-mail denies that a tuition hike will be a hardship while the second e-mail acknowledges that an increase in parking fees would in fact be a financial burden. Increasing student fees while relaxing parking fees at a time when money is scarce is truly disturbing. We hope you will join us in demonstrating that the proposed fee increase is not just a problem for individual students, but calls into question the university’s commitment to accessible higher education.

Love,

Abby and Sharla


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