UMass Dartmouth faculty rally for funding

Nov 19, 2020

The UMass Dartmouth campus, normally quiet this fall due the pandemic, saw an increase in activity and car honks Thursday evening as dozens of union workers staged a caravan-style protest against the University of Massachusetts system as campus executives are pursuing layoffs, furloughs, and program cuts across the commonwealth.

“The unity of the unions was really felt tonight — it was great,” American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees steward Wendy Graca said. “This was unprecedented in such unprecedented times.” 

The main goal of the demonstration, Graca said, was to “make some noise” so that members of the community would encourage state legislators to pass level funding and for UMass president Marty Meehan and the Board of Trustees to release some of the system’s stabilization funds to prevent additional furloughs.

Workers had previously demonstrated against the Covid-related cuts at the Dartmouth Mall on Faunce Corner on Nov. 5.

“We’re the employees trying to get you funding and keep your university open,” she said. “We’re the ones who are constantly targeted, that’s why we’re out here making noise.” 

The Dartmouth gathering was one of several demonstrations happening across the UMass system. 

Massachusetts Teachers Association Vice President Max Page said there was quite the turnout at Amherst the day prior, but nothing compared to what he saw in Dartmouth.

“It was really great, but not quite as raucous as this,” he said to the socially distanced crowd. “This campus rocks it in terms of enthusiasm.” 

During his speech, Page praised the state senate for working together to pass the $46 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2021 on Nov. 18 — roughly $75 million of which is designated to level fund the UMass system.

While not as much as they wanted, Graca said that “It’s a start and we’ll certainly keep it.”

“Now it’s on the Board of Trustees to do their part, spend the money correctly, and release the reserves,” she added.

According to UMass spokesperson John Hoey, because schools are expecting an increase of in-person students for the spring semester, a percentage of this funding would have to go toward new health and safety measures.

Hoey also notes that the level funding would only even out the budget loss the university system has seen.

“It’s welcome news, but it doesn’t necessarily close what our planned budget shortfall was,” he said.

 As for the stabilization funds, according to a 2019 annual finance report, the UMass system had funds totaling $114,594,000. The report notes that the funds are designated to “provide budgetary stabilization for operations due to unforeseen and/or uncontrollable circumstances to ensure responsible long-term financial stability.”

Hoey noted that even if the stabilization funds were used, they would only cover a month’s salaries for all employees across the university system.

According to the spokesperson, the magnitude and duration of the Covid-19 pandemic means it also cannot be treated as a “one-time” unanticipated event since it has affected FY2020, 21, and likely 22.  

It would be financially unsound for the University to spend down its reserves to cover operating costs during what we now know is a multi-year pandemic,” he said.

Graca said that while she understands that holding onto the funds would be financially sound for the university system, it doesn’t justify the layoffs and cuts. 

“We’re over here doing our part, they need to do theirs,” Graca said.