Students, faculty, and staff at UMass Dartmouth are organizing to strengthen the university and make it more affordable, with the formation of a UMass Dartmouth chapter of PHENOM, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts. PHENOM, which has chapters at 10 other UMass campuses, state universities, and community colleges, brings students, families, alumni, professors, staff, and community members together to advocate for high-quality, debt-free public college.
“Many of us grew up knowing Massachusetts to be a leader in education. UMass Dartmouth, in particular, remained a beacon of light for students in a region where expensive private universities were out of reach for many,” said Nate Roberts, PHENOM Student Organizer at UMASS Dartmouth. “Yet, what is considered to be one of the most affordable campuses has become increasingly unaffordable as costs shift more to the backs of students. For that reason, we are proud to start a chapter of PHENOM here and fight to make sure all students have an opportunity to achieve something more.”
“Since 2001, state funding of our public colleges and universities has declined dramatically. As a result, Massachusetts has the fastest-growing public college costs and the second-fastest growth in student debt in the nation, even while campuses like UMass Dartmouth are facing yearly budget cuts,” said Dr. Catharine M. Curran, PhD, President of the UMass Dartmouth Faculty Federation. “The average UMass Dartmouth student is graduating with more than $30,000 in student debt, and our full-time tenured faculty members are being replaced by part-time instructors who are paid much less, have no job security, and often do not receive health insurance coverage. We’re fired up and excited to be organizing with PHENOM to restore the promise of affordable, high-quality public education at UMass Dartmouth.”
Members of the UMass Faculty Federation, Local 1895, American Federation of Teachers, which represents faculty, professional staff, part-time lecturers, and research assistants and associates on campus, are actively involved in the new chapter.
“It's difficult to generate interest in new groups on a campus, especially when students, staff, and faculty have prior responsibilities and commitments, such as classes, financial decisions, part or full time work, second jobs, internships, family, athletics, and other groups and clubs, but I was delighted to see such a strong, initial response from our campus community,” said Crystal Lubinsky, a Umass Faculty Federation member and PHENOM chapter staff representative. “Our UMASS Dartmouth chapter has aligned itself with PHENOM's statewide campaigns, including what looks to be a good turnout for this year's Advocacy Day at the State House in March. Locally, we have joined forces with our Faculty Federation and the Labor Education Center to hold a teach-in of sorts on campus, which will focus on ‘Leadership and Shared Governance.’ Our hope is to bring together students, staff, and faculty, on equal footing within discussion and break away groups, in order to foster an understanding that each of us has the power and ability to shape the university environment.”
UMass Dartmouth’s PHENOM chapter is also engaged in the statewide Fund Our Future campaign, which aims to pass legislation that would fix the state’s school funding formula and reinvest more than $1.5 billion each year in public education from preK through college. The CHERISH Act, part of that campaign, would implement the core recommendation of the state’s Higher Education Finance Commission, which found in 2014 that the state is underfunding our public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year in inflation-adjusted dollars. Since 2001, state funding of public colleges and universities has declined dramatically, from $12,000 per student each year to only $8,000 per student. The legislation would reverse that decline in support and increase state funding for public colleges and universities by more than $500 million a year.
“It’s great to see faculty, staff, and students at UMass Dartmouth working together to deliver on our shared vision of what public higher education in Massachusetts should be,” said American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts President Beth Kontos. “Through the statewide Fund Our Future campaign and local action on campus, we’re letting our state leaders know that we demand a public higher education system that is fully funded and staffed, and accessible and affordable for all students. That’s how we give all of our students the opportunity they need to succeed.”
“Forging a relationship with the students, faculty, and staff at UMass Dartmouth has been a pleasure for PHENOM,” said Sydney Little, Organizing Director of PHENOM. “Right now, Massachusetts is facing a crisis in public education. Our public colleges and universities are chronically underfunded, leaving our students, families, faculty, staff, and communities at a disadvantage. In our fight for education justice, student and faculty organizers at Umass Dartmouth have been exemplary in their passion to make change and stand up for what Massachusetts deserves.”