Students, staff and faculty members who are fighting back against budget cuts at public colleges and universities rallied today on campuses across the state, drawing attention to the devastating loss of personnel and programs.
“When they talk about cutting staff, like student life counselors and librarians, and call them nonessential, I need to speak up,” public higher education graduate Melody Rondeau told the crowd during a rally at Bristol Community College in Fall River.
Rondeau said she dropped out of high school and after six years decided that she needed to resume her education. She enrolled at Massasoit Community College, where she received the kind of support necessary to help a nontraditional student such as herself succeed. From Massasoit, Rondeau went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree and ultimately earned a master’s degree in chemistry.
The message that high-quality, accessible public higher education is essential to the well-being of the Commonwealth and cannot be sacrificed due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic rang out loud and clear during the actions at BCC and elsewhere.
Rallies were held at Springfield Technical Community College, Salem State University, on the UMass Lowell campus and at Quinsigamond Community College — all places where jobs and programs have been cut and employees have been furloughed. Union members from UMass Boston and other campuses gathered in Dorchester and traveled to a large rally for public education at the State House in the late afternoon.
Activists from public colleges and universities throughout the state — calling on UMass President Marty Meehan and state Commissioner of Higher Education Carlos Santiago to defend the staffing and crucial student programs on their campuses — sent the following message: “Do your job.”
Higher education union members believe that leaders such as Meehan and Santiago are not being forceful enough in seeking to secure state and federal resources to protect campuses and that they are hastily agreeing to cuts before using reserve funds.
More than 100 positions were eliminated at Bristol Community College in the spring.
Amy Blanchette, a family engagement specialist, was among those whose jobs were cut. Blanchette said she is scared for students — and scared for public higher education if key support roles like hers are taken away.
Shelly Murphy, a professor at BCC and chapter director of the Massachusetts Community College Council there, said that public higher education is what “people use to get out of a hole.”
She criticized the college’s move to cut staff before knowing what type of relief would be coming through federal assistance packages and for failing to use reserve funds to save programs and jobs.
UMass union members are making the same argument: that the university system must tap into its reserve funds and stop issuing furloughs and layoff notices.
Workers from UMass Dartmouth said that they were told on the day of the rallies to expect more pink slips, even though the campus had agreed to imposing no layoffs before December if workers took furloughs.
“The lowest-paid workers are being targeted,” said Verena Linski of the Educational Services Union at UMass Dartmouth.
The MTA is currently leading the Massachusetts Agrees campaign to demand the funding necessary to maintain the quality of public higher education and to ensure that campuses have vital health and safety procedures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For information on the campaign, visit MasschusettsAgrees.org.