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U. Massachusetts Teachers Want New Funding Solution

This story was written by Domenic Poli, Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts Society of Professors (MSP) announced their own plan last week to deal with the current economic crisis in conflict with that of the University of Massachusetts Chancellor Robert Holub.

Holub's plan was released to the campus community via e-mail on Oct. 15, the same day Governor Deval Patrick ordered cuts to help close the commonwealth's projected $1.4 billion budget gap. The cuts include an $11 million reduction for UMass, with more possible cuts to come.

As a result, the chancellor has proposed an immediate hiring freeze, canceling national searches already in progress for administrative positions, and not filling spots left by departed or retired faculty. He also announced cuts to academic units and his plans to eliminate $11 million from the budget under which academic departments operate.

Though the MSP, representing the 1,400 faculty members and librarians at UMass Amherst, said it realizes money is tight, its members feel that Holub should utilize existing reserves from UMass' capital fund.

According to the group's proposal, about $40 million is removed from the campus' operating budget each year and put into a capital fund for future building projects, but these funds have not been spent. The group also says an increasing amount of the operating budget has been moved to the capital plan, which has grown to about $200 billion.

Members say because the state legislature passed a $2 billion capital bond in July, the campus should freeze contributions to the building fund and use the money to cover the immediate crisis.

The MSP also said the interest from money for the New Dirt construction projects has increased to more than $9 million, which could cover three-fourths of the amount needed this year.

"What we're saying is that we are in a bad situation. We recognize that, but we have to have a transparent process to look at all areas where we might make these required budget cuts," said Max Page, president of the MSP and professor of architecture at UMass.

He also suggests looking at other expenses, such as the $20 million he said the Amherst campus sends every year to UMass President Jack Wilson's Boston office.

"That's a very big chunk of change, and we're wondering whether that should be cut," said Page, adding that Holub's plan would disregard the "Amherst 250 Plan," which was started in 2005 to increase the size of the tenure system faculty by 250 over five years.

Page said the MSP's recent proposal is just an alternative he feels should be considered before carrying out Holub's plan.

The MSP, which plans to release new proposals every week, also calls for the administration to be more transparent when dealing with these issues.

"[Holub] sent us all an e-mail saying, 'This is what's happening.' That's not the way to work on an open, transparent campus," said Page, who has been at UMass since 2001.

"There's no doubt that these cuts will be difficult and painful," said a statement from Holub, "but we have no choice given the financial crisis facing the Commonwealth and the reductions announced by the governor. State officials are closely monitoring the commonwealth's fiscal situation, and they'll decide if further cost-cutting is needed and whether such reductions will affect public higher education.

"While you can understand people being upset and even pessimistic in light of difficult news, we have to face the challenges before us and not give up on our goal of being one of the best public research universities in the nation," he said.

The MSP is also working with AFCME Local 1776, the University Staff Association, the Prfessional Staff Union and the Graduate Employee Organization to determine other measures that cut costs without causing layoffs, which hurt students and undermine what they consider to be "the core mission of the University."

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