I have been a partisan of UMass Dartmouth and its contributions to the SouthCoast. I have said we should take a look at building a better relationship between town and gown, and according to the Donahue Institute of the University of Massachusetts, the 3,584 staff and faculty and over 9,000 students generate $466.1 million in our South Coast communities — much of it in Dartmouth!
Victor Woodridge, chairman of the UMass board of trustees, citing the 2016 Donahue report, said, "UMass is truly here for a reason and that reason is to serve the entire commonwealth." Some recent decisions by the University are contributing to a critical rethinking of my support.
First is the decision by the UMass Dartmouth administration to privatize WUMD-FM and eliminate much of its highly regarded and thoughtful local programming. Secondly, the university will now charge senior citizens full tuition — a friend of mine who gives back a lot in community service, will see their tuition jump to $1,700 per course. And thirdly, the school has decided to move graduation from the main campus to the Xfinity center in Mansfield. Are we being served?
To the first point, WUMD is one of my favorite radio stations next to WGBH-FM. In a world of radio/news/music that dulls the senses, WUMD presents informative and diverse programming that educates, and the music from jazz to Brazilian to alternative rock is superb. What will be gained by the university eliminating and alienating the listeners of WUMD?
To the second point, the decision to charge senior citizens is simply wrong and mean-spirited. There are not that many seniors that take advantage of this low-cost program. It provides seniors with life-time learning and interaction with younger students who gain perspective from their life experiences. Furthermore, many of the senior citizens have children and grandchildren who have enrolled at UMD and paid full tuition.
The UMass system is one of the most expensive public universities in the country. What is to be gained by the university punishing the seniors of Dartmouth? Many of them give back by attending and supporting UMD events such as speaking events and author signings, and financially supporting UMD. According to The Standard-Times, UMD will put its tuition policy for senior citizens in line with the UMass system, that it will "grandfather" in at 90 percent reimbursement those currently enrolled in a degree program.
Read that to mean that if you are a senior citizen currently enrolled, you can finish with a tuition waiver, but after that you will pay full freight. With so many senior citizens on fixed incomes and facing higher health care costs, that is less than a friendly amendment. This along with another tuition increase for undergrads is less than encouraging. Is it any wonder that UMD enrollment has declined? While other states such as New York, Rhode Island, and Tennessee move toward free tuition at public colleges and universities — a wise investment of our tax dollars in the future — we in Massachusetts increase costs. Sad, very sad!
Education should be a right so that we can build and train the technology economy. Let's not condemn future generations to education debt slavery.
Finally, the rationale by the administration to move the graduation is irrational! It divorces the students from their four-year experience at UMD. It sends them to Mansfield, nearly an hour's drive from their learning experience. Since 600 of the graduates live in the SouthCoast, it's a further burden to their families and also deprives local restaurants who support the university of important revenue.
For a university that touts its business school, it's all bad business. That UMD needs a larger venue for its graduation ceremony is not a new problem — there have been larger ones. Perhaps adding a bigger tent next to the amphitheater or organizing one graduation in the morning and another in the afternoon could be a temporary solution, giving time for the university to find a permanent one.
Until the administration in partnership with the community rethinks these decisions, many in the SouthCoast will have to rethink our support to UMD, which is sad. After all, Bridgewater State University is only 35 miles away and more affordable.
George Kontanis lives in Dartmouth.