MTA: Higher education cuts are ‘not only reckless but also completely unnecessary’

MTA: Higher education cuts are ‘not only reckless but also completely unnecessary’

The following statement was issued today by MTA President Merrie Najimy and MTA Vice President Max Page concerning job cuts at UMass Amherst:

The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus has just announced its largest-ever workforce reduction. More than 1,200 campus workers are out of work or soon will be, including some 800 full-time dorm, dining hall and maintenance workers. The latest cuts follow those a couple of weeks ago affecting about 400 student residence advisers and peer mentors — and they contribute to our state’s nation-topping unemployment rate.

In addition, UMass Amherst says that hundreds more job cuts are coming.

This is not only reckless but also completely unnecessary.

UMass President Marty Meehan gave the go-ahead for UMass Amherst to make these devastating cuts, which we believe will only encourage other public higher education administrators to follow suit. Before knowing the full array of financial facts, Meehan is rushing to take steps that will cause incredible personal pain for families, hurt the economy of Western Massachusetts, and weaken UMass Amherst over the long term. There is no reason to inflict this on our communities.

Many campuses have already closed programs for students and cut staff. “Essential workers” who kept the campuses safe during the initial phases of the pandemic, graduate students, faculty members, academic support staff, librarians and whole programs have been cut at our state universities, at our community colleges, and on UMass campuses.

It is time for workers and the public to take a stand and demand that Meehan, Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago, trustees, college presidents and chancellors protect public higher education and stop propagating a false austerity narrative.

There is no denying the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic on every part of the economy, including higher education. But with the Legislature poised to continue funding public higher education at current levels (having already level-funded our campuses through October) and nearly $12 million in additional federal CARES Act funds recently made available to public colleges and universities in Massachusetts — including more than $3 million to the UMass system — as well as more federal stimulus money on the horizon, the need for deep, damaging cuts simply does not exist.

Public higher education administrators are behaving more like corporate CEOs than protectors of the public good. Confronted with the loss of some revenue, administrators are turning to draconian cuts when instead they should be seeking creative solutions and taking advantage of reserve accounts.

The workers losing their jobs in Amherst may not be needed this semester for certain tasks that are required when more students are living and present on campus. However, there are many other needs to be met — from preparing the campus for the gradual return of all students and workers to addressing years of deferred maintenance to creating community-wide mutual assistance programs. Our public colleges and universities can still very much serve the communities as our state rebuilds and heals.

And our public colleges and universities will be more important than ever over the next few years as the economy revives and workers need to adapt and be ready for new opportunities and a new employment landscape.

We will continue to fight against destructive cuts that will do lasting damage to our crucial institutions of higher education.

If we allow administrators to gut our public higher education system now, countless families will lose the chance to both benefit from and contribute to the economic revival that Massachusetts will need — and surely experience — once the coronavirus is brought under control. Eroding our public colleges and universities now will inevitably hurt communities of color, first-generation college students and nontraditional students, further exacerbating inequities in our state.