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House Task Force hears the bad news about Romney's higher ed plans

Public higher education officials and union leaders ripped Gov. Mitt Romney's budget and reorganization proposals at a hearing of the House Task Force on Higher Education Financing at Roxbury Community College, March 25.

MTA Vice President Anne Wass urged the lawmakers to "stand up to this crisis -- which is a revenue crisis and not a spending crisis -- and to raise the revenues necessary" to ensure the continued strength of public higher education.

"We are told by our political leadership -- and I quote -- ‘this is a billion-dollar system out of control' or that ‘the system is badly, badly broken.' I find these statements remarkable considering that they come from individuals who know better. These same individuals are people who as recently as one year ago were touting the virtues and successes of the state's public colleges. I also believe that these disparaging remarks are a slap in the face for the thousands of hard working faculty, administrators and staff who are dedicated to serving our students and do so with distinction despite no pay raises and ever greater workloads."

-- Dr. Lindsay Norman, president of MassBay Community College and chair of the community college Council of Presidents

Pat Markunas, president of the Massachusetts State College Association, reminded the panel of the more than 40 tax cuts the legislature had voted in the past decade, which cost the state $4 billion annually. She also slammed the Bain Report for its "formula to provide the cheapest, worst quality education for our students."

Markunas continued: "Affordability without quality is affording nothing. Access without quality is access to nothing."

Rick Doud, president of the Massachusetts Community College Counsel, stressed the hardships students would endure because of fee and tuition hikes necessitated by the budget cuts.

Donna Johnson, president of the University Staff Association, did not attend but sent testimony describing the plight of UMass/Amherst students and her own members: "We hear figures quoted of multi-billion dollar deficits. But let me quote some other figures to put things in perspective. The members of my union, many of whom have worked for the University for decades, make an average of under $30,000 per year. Many of my union colleagues are having trouble providing the basic necessities of life for themselves and their families.  We have been struggling for more than a year now to receive earned raises that amount, on the average, to 38-cents per hour or $14.31 weekly.
 
Officials of community colleges, state colleges and UMass/Dartmouth also criticized Romney's higher education plans.
Mass. College of Art President Katherine Sloan said that the Romney administration's vision of raising tuition to market rates "would be a perversion of our mission." She also said the governor's plan to reduce state appropriations to the college to zero in four years would be "tantamount to closing the college."

But perhaps the harshest criticisms came from Lindsay Norman, president of MassBay Community College and chair of the community college Council of Presidents.

Said Norman: "We are told by our political leadership -- and I quote -- ‘this is a billion-dollar system out of control' or that ‘the system is badly, badly broken.' I find these statements remarkable considering that they come from individuals who know better. These same individuals are people who as recently as one year ago were touting the virtues and successes of the state's public colleges. I also believe that these disparaging remarks are a slap in the face for the thousands of hard working faculty, administrators and staff who are dedicated to serving our students and do so with distinction despite no pay raises and ever greater workloads."

Also: "It has been suggested by some that the administration has proposed a ‘corporate structure' and/or business-like proposal for higher education. This notion is preposterous! As a former corporate executive at a Fortune 50 company, as well as vice president and technical director of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City, and with more than 20 years of financial and management consulting with major corporations and multi-national clients, I can with great assurance tell you that the proposed plan for higher education is not bankable, is not credit worthy, and is doomed to failure. Moreover, the customers -- our students -- would should benefit the most from any changes, will ultimately bear the greatest cost of failure."

Students and community activists also testified against the cuts.