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Amherst is now legally the flagship of UMass system

The Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts is now legally designated as a research university and the system’s flagship campus.

The move to legally denote UMass Amherst as the flagship campus was the work of Massachusetts Senator Stanley C. Rosenberg. Rosenberg, while addressing the Faculty Senate yesterday, proclaimed this success to be his proudest within the current legislative session.

Rosenberg told the Senate that he had always assumed that somewhere within Massachusetts’ statutes on higher education that language denoted the Amherst campus as the flagship. However, after reading every single state statute on higher education this summer, Rosenberg found that nowhere was such a designation made for the University system. Additionally, the Amherst campus was not described as a research university.

Due to growing tensions between the governor and the legislature, and following Governor Romney’s attempt to reorganize the University system this year, Rosenberg felt it was imperative that Amherst be legally recognized as a research university and the system’s flagship institution.

“This is the first time in my knowledge that Amherst is legally the flagship. It was a battle to put it into law,” said Rosenberg. “It should never have been a battle.”

Since legally designating Amherst as the flagship campus, Rosenberg has created an additional budget for the chancellor to create a “new strategic plan to inform the legislature what is needed for Amherst to be a true flagship” and improve its level of competitiveness among research universities.

Rosenberg also brought to the Faculty Senate an explanation of what had happened within the legislature during this year’s budget crisis, as well as predictions for the upcoming year.

“I don’t have to tell you how ugly the budget situation was this last year,” Rosenberg began.

Addressing the issue of resigned UMass President William Bulger, Rosenberg said, “The Commonwealth ended up in a disappointing situation on an ugly debate predicated on politics and not on the future of the public higher education system.”

Rosenberg, who fought strongly against the re-organizational proposals this spring, explained why he had done so.

“It doesn’t matter how we organize the system – it matters how much money is put into it and who pays,” he said. “Every eight or nine years the idea to reorganize the University system comes up. It’s a cover used while they [the state legislature] cut the heart out of your budget. It doesn’t matter what academic setting you are in – the person above you is useless – you want independence. Chancellors don’t need presidents, and presidents don’t want Boards of Education.”

The senator went on to explain that in the past decade the University has seen great success, and improved tremendously due to work within the system at the lowest levels. Rosenberg said that in the past decade the University system has worked to place the power in the hands of the people who do the day-to-day work on each campus, allowing them to make the appropriate decisions. Rosenberg believes that this move to put power in the hands of the faculties, and campus administrations, instead of the Board of Education and Board of Trustees, has been “enormously successful.” He saw Romney’s reorganization proposals as a way to obscure the issues that are important to higher education, especially the University.

“I wasn’t going to allow them to cloud the issue. We beat back every one of these silly proposals that would have them cover for cuts to your budget,” he said. “It is a provable, undeniable fact that public higher education has improved in the last decade. They refused to look at this, or to talk to anyone. With my own eyes, I watched a television interview in which our Lieutenant Governor, Kerry Healey, said that we need to ‘cut off Amherst to build up our flagship campuses Dartmouth, Lowell, and Boston.’ “

Rosenberg declared that his vast experience in higher education had taught him a few “huge truths,” one of which was that, “the best campuses and the best schools have some form of central administration that keeps their hand off most of the campus specific issues.” He continues to support the president’s office and the current organization of Massachusetts’ public higher education.

“I am happy to report that we did not blow up the president’s office or campuses, or merge any schools.”

Rosenberg doubts that the issue of reorganization will be brought up again in the second half of the current two-year legislative session. This he says will benefit the University as it allows legislators to focus on budget figures, and allows the University to focus the legislature on funding contracts, which have now been unfulfilled for three years.

Rosenberg closed his address to the Senate by saying, “With dark clouds on the horizon, our little victories have set the stage on campus for a new visionary to make the next move for UMass.”

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