BOSTON/Dorchester - Over 50 members of Occupy UMass Boston - one of the many informal campus chapters of the Occupy movement that have sprung up around the United States - held a protest outside the inauguration of UMass president Robert Caret at the JFK Library on Tuesday. The students, staff and faculty present demanded a rollback of skyrocketing tuition and fees, a democratic process to replace the current UMass Boston strategic plan, and an end to the "corporatization and privatization" of public higher education in the Commonwealth.
The action began on the plaza outside the UMass Boston Campus Center. As participants gathered, several UMass Boston police approached the crowd and asked to speak to protest leaders. The police then inquired about the protestors plans, and negotiated over how many students would be allowed to enter the Campus Center cafeteria to exhort other students to join the action. Ultimately, it was agreed that 8 students would enter. Those students went into the cafeteria, and made their case to the lunchtime crowd there by standing on chairs and using the "human microphone" call and response technique now made famous by the Occupy movement worldwide.
Meanwhile, the rest of the protestors marched with UMass Boston police escort across the Harbor Point peninsula to the JFK Library. Approaching as close as they could to the library entrance they began a series of chants and speeches about the many problems facing the UMass system, and demanding redress from Caret. Boston Police onsite - including several members of the elite Special Operations Unit - told the protestors that they would have to move back about 100 feet to a roped off "designated protest area" at the behest of a federal official on the scene. Failure to comply would mean arrest.
Occupy UMass Boston members then held an impromptu general assembly to decide whether or not to risk arrest. Consensus was quickly reached to decamp to the protest area, and the Boston Police volunteered to move a school bus that was partially blocking the area from view from the library.
The protestors then continued their demonstration.
UMass Boston philosophy professor Gary Zabel, a member of Occupy UMass Boston, explained the rationale for the action, "Though the UMass Boston strategic plan pays lip service to the traditional 'urban mission' of the university to provide an affordable education for working-class, immigrant, and older 'nontraditional' students, the concrete details of the strategic plan in fact signify the abandonment of the urban mission. Those details involve spending hundreds of millions of dollars putting up new buildings, including the Integrated Sciences Center, dormitory buildings, and academic buildings that will include classrooms able to accommodate from 100-500 students in place of the current classes of 30 to 40 students; increasing the student body from 15,000 to 25,000 students over the next 14 years; attracting 'first rate' research faculty, capable of attracting corporate grants and partnerships in place of public funding; expanding the number of programs that grant doctorates, and replacing lecturers who are in face-to-face contact with students with inexperienced and underpaid TAs. Inevitably, the result will be a transformation of the UMass student body, since such a 'research high institution' (a Carnegie Foundation classification) will act as magnet for well-prepared students of middle- and upper-class background, whose families will be able to afford the substantially higher tuition and fees that are sure to come.
"The administrators at UMass Boston cannot be blamed for creating the pressure to privatize. That accomplishment belongs to the governors and legislators of the Commonwealth who have severely cut public appropriations to higher ed since the 1980s. But the administrators can be blamed for adapting to the pressure to privatize all too quickly and thoroughly, instead of mobilizing the organized opposition of students, their families, faculty, staff, alumni, and other citizens of Massachusetts.
"That is why the demonstrators at President Caret's inauguration took it upon themselves to do the job the administrators have failed to do, and demanded rollback of student tuition and fees as well as a moratorium on implementation of the strategic plan until a genuine democratic discussion can be conducted among everyone affected on our campus."
Alexis Marvel, a first year UMass Boston political science student, added, "Tuesday's protest was important for a few reasons. It mobilized both students and faculty. It educated the UMass community on issues that otherwise would have remained largely unrecognized. And it set a precedent for protest on campus that has not yet been seen at UMass Boston. The new president seems to be on board with many of these issues. I am curious to see if his understanding will translate into palpable change. My hope is that through these movements, legislators and administrators will begin to realize that students will no longer be silent as these injustices continue. We will not stop until we are truly heard."
When contacted for comment, Robert Connolly, UMass vice president for strategic communications and university spokesperson, responded, "President Caret has spent his first four months in office traveling the state and making the case that the state is providing too little in funding to the University of Massachusetts and thus is shifting too much of the funding burden to students and their families."
Connolly then provided a quote from Caret's inaugural address
"We will fight to make sure you are attending a top-flight University - one that prepares and inspires the next generation of leaders to tackle our nation's most pressing challenges. We will fight to make sure that you are getting the kind of state support that makes this dream financially realistic."
And a quote from Caret's recent address to the UMass Amherst faculty senate
"We need to make higher education a higher priority in Massachusetts."
Members of Occupy UMass Boston plan to continue their protests until their demands are met.