October 25, 2014

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Where’s our UMass Pride?

Flickr/UMass

Flickr/UMass

We all came to UMass for different reasons. Some of us dreamed of coming here for as long as we could remember. Some of us came here because a family member or friend did; some to play sports or pursue a particularly strong major; some because they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else, and others because, frankly, they didn’t get in anywhere else. While the origins of our experiences at UMass differ, the fact that we’re all here now underlies us all.

Whether you love or hate UMass, you’re here, so embrace it or leave. UMass suffers from a systematic lack of pride. Too often, students perceive UMass as a collection of individuals rather than as a unit collectively contributing to something bigger. While this problem is complex and its cause is difficult to pin down, it affects each one of us whether we realize it or not.

It’s important to note that this is nothing new. UMass has traditionally suffered from a widespread lack of pride that translates into a lack of support from alumni. It’s actually quite logical: if you didn’t particularly care for UMass as a student, why would you all of the sudden care when you leave? The Alumni Association has suffered the brunt of this problem for decades. While UMass has been fortunate to receive sizeable donations from alumni like Eugene Isenberg and Jack Welch, these relatively isolated donations alone pale by comparison to those given to other schools, because individual donations can only scratch the surface of what we could achieve if we all chipped in.

Ironically, it’s UMass students themselves that suffer from their lack of pride. Take endowments for example. Endowments are fundamentally important for a college or university to function. They improve the quality of life and provide opportunities for students and faculty. They increase the overall accessibility of a school. Harvard is the model for successful endowments. With an endowment of over $32 billion, students apply to Harvard without providing any financial information. If accepted, they apply for aid. Students below a particular threshold are given free tuition without a requirement to pay back the school. Less fortunate students essentially receive a $200,000 education for free. This serves as a testament to the power of endowments.

Last year UMass’ endowment was just under $200 million. While it’s naïve to think UMass can catch up to Harvard anytime soon, it’s important to note that other public schools still blow UMass out of the water in this particular field. The University of California – Los Angeles’ endowment last year was about $1.8 billion, and The University of Minnesota’s was $2.2 billion. The University of Virginia’s endowment was over $5.24 billion. Even though UMass has about 5,000 more students per year, its endowment is only about 3.8 percent of Virginia’s. Certainly The University of Virginia’s graduates are not 2,600 times better and richer than UMass’, they just care more. Our neighbors at Amherst College have an endowment of about $1.39 billion (695 times more than UMass’) despite having just 8 percent of the students UMass does. The problems here are not a result of these schools being far superior to UMass, but because UMass has a lack of pride.

It’s possible – though I feel it’s quite unlikely – that UMass’ low endowment is a function of the jobs UMass graduates hold. If we assume for the sake of argument that this is true, I believe it’s still a result of our lack of pride. As a member of the Commonwealth Honors College and the Isenberg School of Management, I’m wholly confident that the education I’ve received at UMass is, at the very least, comparable to any other college. That is, we UMass students are as equally equipped as any other college’s students in terms of knowledge and preparedness. So why then do UMass students struggle to find solid jobs after graduation? I think this is largely a function of UMass’ reputation, which of course directly correlates to student pride.

UMass’ public perception certainly leaves something to be desired. Too often, students revel in the “ZooMass” mantra. While I personally love the partying at UMass, what’s the sense in bragging about it publicly? As Denzel Washington says in American Gangster, “The loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.” It’s great to be a party school, but why not be one behind closed doors? Surely this would be a win-win situation. Bragging to your friends at a different school about how many beers you can drink or how many people were at that party Friday night is indeed detrimental in the grand scheme of things, and consequently makes us all worse off. Students at schools like the University of Virginia drink and party but surely don’t brag like this; they have too much pride in their school’s reputation.

While drinking and partying may be a universal occurrence at most colleges, for too many students at UMass it actually and unabashedly becomes the purpose of college. Such nearsightedness undermines or perhaps blatantly misunderstands the fact that we as students have a direct influence on the public’s perception of us. This is important because the public includes all the recruiters and employers who may be reluctant to hire us. People’s perceptions of us are not some mystic thing beyond our control. I’m not telling people not to party, but rather to act like you’ve done so before. Partying should not be our defining characteristic. While the origins of the ZooMass perception may be justified, we’re the ones with the opportunity to change it, and by doing so, all former, current, and future UMass students will be benefited.

This all of course begs the question: how can we instill more pride in UMass students? While I don’t know the answer per se, I do know that it isn’t beyond us. Pride is as simple as being satisfied and pleased with both your education and overall experience at UMass. Even if some things haven’t gone your way here, there’s no sense crying over spilled milk — embrace it and move on. Pride can’t be forced, but it’s not hard to find either. We are the ones that can make UMass one of the country’s elite public schools, but that’ll never happen if we don’t try. Candidly we’re a little behind, but the race is not lost. As in the fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare”, “slow and steady wins the race.” Boston College wasn’t considered a very good school when our parents were applying to college, but now it’s considered one of the best on the East Coast. We can do this, too, and we’ll see the changes a lot sooner than we might think. In order for this to happen everyone must give back and help UMass however they can. No gift or assistance is too small. If we revel in the fact that we’re all bonded by this glue that is UMass and channel that energy positively without disregarding all that’s gotten us here today, everyone even remotely affiliated with UMass will reap the rewards.

Ryan Walsh is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at rdwalsh@student.umass.edu.

Editor’s note: This article originally stated that the University of Southern California was a public university, this has been replaced with analogous endowment information for the University of California – Los Angelos.

Comments
25 Responses to “Where’s our UMass Pride?”
  1. Derrick says:

    Fun fact: when listing his school during the cable network’s weekly introduction to the defense Patriots safety James Ihedigbo calls it “Zoo Mass.”

  2. JW says:

    You’re right, my education at UMass was essentially the same as any other school. Additionally, my older co-workers have pointed out that the longer you’re in the workforce, where you went to college matters less. So why should you really have pride in your school once you leave if it doesn’t really matter a few years later?

  3. Alex says:

    This is a very thoughtful column.

    One important point that I feel was left out here however is the lack of a strong athletic program at UMass and how that impacts school pride. People can think what they want about not needing a strong football team or basketball team, but a rich tradition of football and/or basketball at a school can unify it, instill pride, and encourage support from alumni. For UMass, it’s a big deal just to have our once highly regarded basketball team playing on ESPNU once a year. The school and its alumni need something to rally around and a football or basketball team that is competitive at the national level could go a long way towards providing a solution to the rampant problem the author identified in this column.

  4. Mike Morris '63 says:

    Congratulations on a wonderful article, Mr. Walsh. As a two time president of the UMass Alumni Association, I struggled mightily with those people in the University administration, the Amherst campus administration and even the Amherst casmpus faculty who did not have the requisite loyalty and pride in our, and their, school–and they’re still around. It starts with them. People truly do come to UMass for a lot of reasons, Mr Walsh–many of them (lots of them) see our campus as a beacon of hope and light for a better life—in fact, we have a mission as the University’s flagship campus—a mission that many of the schools you name do not possess—we have the duty and obligation to make our students better and to make our Commonwealth better. Loving UMass is not a spectator sport! Keep it up, Mr. Walsh–maybe, just maybe, you’ll shake people out of their Pioneer Valley lethargy.

  5. Brian '01 says:

    Though I have always been proud of having attended UMass, I haven’t yet given back to the school. I suppose being caught up in my own daily routine and not necessarily feeling as though I was in a position to give money away to anyone, has been a large part of that, but lack of school pride is not. Though I believe being known as a party school can be detrimental in many ways, I don’t believe this is the heart of the matter either. Florida State University, the University of Miami, and the University of Wisconsin have all been known as party schools, yet I believe students there don’t have the same issue with school pride. I don’t know the numbers for sure, but I doubt their endowments are as skimpy as that of UMass.
    I believe what facilitates school pride is something the students and alumni can rally around and hold with high regard in front of students and alumni from other schools. For some schools, as with the schools I mentioned above, it’s a sports team or program. For others, as with Harvard, it’s the reputation for educational excellence. Though it’s an excellent university, UMass can not claim either, and I think that’s the larger part of the problem.
    I was on campus during the John Calipari era of UMass basketball, and I have to say, no one mentioned lack of school pride then. If the students want to have something to be proud of, I’d say they need to push the university to put more in to the athletics program. Excellence here will bring attention and funds to the university that can flow in to building a higher profile educational reputation. It’s the students and alumni, including myself, that need to push this or sadly, it won’t ever happen.

  6. Sam says:

    Doesn’t help that UMass accepts people like Paul Markham to the school

  7. Ryan Walsh says:

    I made an error in my article. USC is a private school. Please substitute USC with UCLA, which has an endowment of $1.8 billion.

  8. Sean says:

    comparing to other public schools…USC…hmm, last time i check, USC is actually a PRIVATE school

  9. Minuteman says:

    Great article. As an alum, I look forward to the day that UMass students are not so insecure that they have to advertise how awesome they are at partying. The culture at UMass needs to change. As is, too large of a percentage of students act this way, which makes the real people there either change to fit the culture, or become anti-social. Why can’t UMassers just have a good time and not act like the giddy middle school kid that brags about their new Starter jacket?

  10. Raechel '92 says:

    As a graduate of almost 20 yrs ago, and having moved away from New England, I may have a bit of perspective on this. As a native of Massachusetts, I always have been proud of my education at UMass. I think that the lack of pride is multifaceted, but comes in part from the state. A large problem has always been a lack of state financial support, which lends itself to a feeling of being less than. Less than the private schools who never seem to have caving ceilings in lecture halls (as did Maher when I had class there)due to budget cuts. Less than, as previously said, the sports of the other schools which then get press. Less than the schools closer to Boston. However, for me the pride came from a school that fostered in me a sense of understanding of other people, other opinions. Now in Chicago, the schools that get the most press really are those with the big 10 sports programs. Again, they get the press. Additionally there is great pride in the state schools. Much more than the (frankly) snobbish view that the state schools are less, and the privates more. I find that my pride in UMass is great. It is rare to see a UMass shirt or sticker here, but when I do, I smile proudly!

  11. Peter Lewenberg '69 says:

    Mike Morris was right on….in both praising Mr. Walsh for the editorial and in focusing attention on the root of the problem. Pride starts at the top….and every faculty and staff member of the University needs to understand their responsibility to enthusiastically support and encourage UMass Pride. That is not to say that everyone needs to agree and be silent. But it does mean that we all need to think first about how it will impact UMass. We desperatly need a sustained effort in every aspect of UMass to change the culture and build pride from the seeds of greatness that already exists on campus. We are so much better than we give ourselves credit for. We all need to be better ambassadors and cheeleaders for UMass. Giving to the current fundraising campaign (UMass Rising) is certainly an obvious way to give back but, additionally, it is in everything we as Alumni do, day in and day out, that speaks to the greatness and pride of UMass. I also heard the James Ihedegbo ZooMass introduction and was embarrased for him and for UMass. Those are the lost opportunities that we can not afford to continue to endure. We need to speak as a unified voice extolling the value and virtues of UMass beginning with the administration, the faculty, the staff, students and alumni…. Pride in UMass begins with each of us believing.

  12. Anarchy Sucks says:

    As a UMass student who has taken courses at the surrounding schools I can assure you the only difference in our educational institutions is the price and snobbery found at the other four. This school is by far the best for science, business, and many of the social fields as well. Plus our Monday afternoons are more intense then their Friday nights!

  13. Eli Gottlieb says:

    As an alum, I’m immensely proud of UMass. I loved my time at UMass. Many of my friends are still at UMass.

    I just don’t love the administration at UMass, and their allies in the Alumni Association. I don’t feel that any donations I would give would actually go to making UMass a smarter, happier place for students.

  14. Sam says:

    Please stop using the ZooMass term. It is self inflicted wound that students perpetuate.

    Don’t $#!T where you eat, people!!! Abolish that self-deprecating term as it hurts you and everyone else that has ever gone to UMass!!

    The rest of the country, and world for that matter, have a far higher opinion of the university than many of the students and the general population of the state.

    Private schools will try to blow rainbows and sunshine on themselves. We should take more pride as we are a superior institution to most other schools in the state (and we cost far less).

    Marble staircases don’t make you smarter my friends!! Try to see past the heavy marketing that spews out of the dinky little private schools.

    UMass is a Carnegie I research university with a global reputation. There is so much wealth in this state and so many people that want to do the “best” for their children. But sending them to a more expensive college because they perceive it to be of higher quality is a laughable misappropriation of resources. BC is no better than UMass – it is just wealthier.

  15. steven caci says:

    They wonder where the student pride is, as the president gets a raise, there is construction every ten feet the student body disapproves of, the internet doesn’t work, and the food in the living areas besides southwest (hampshire and berk) is awful. While this is happening they cut the funding to Health Services, raise the price of going to school, and arrest kids that are under twenty one for having as much as a single beer on their person. Umass needs to put their students interests first, instead of their own.

  16. P. W. Nalbandian says:

    The perception of UMass Amherst as a party school was no different in my time (Class of 1971). Is it well deserved? Yes and No. I have maintained that if you went there to party it was a party school but, like any large university, there was a lot more going on. When I told peers that I was at UMASS I often heard, “Oh that’s a party school”. When I would ask if they had ever been to the campus they would reply that they had once gone there to attend a party. If one only went to the Harvard campus to attend parties, one could conclude that Harvard was a party school.
    As an undergrad I took courses at Amherst, Smith and Mt. Holyoke and found those courses and the professors no better or more demanded than those I took on my own campus (no disrespect to those fine institutions).

    I saw Mr. Idedigbo’s intro Monday night and was not amused. Perhaps if had looked around while he was a student he would have found much to be proud of.

  17. Mike L. says:

    In certain programs UMass lags far behind other schools. I am a graduate of Isenberg and I will be the first to tell you it is not a competitive degree. The course of studies is a direct testament to this. Why when I was a senior was I then allowed to take an International finance class. Why was I forced to so many “gen ed” business classes. Students today cannot afford to waste time in those classes when they need to be learning actual skills.
    When Umass starts caring more about quality of education instead of image and amenities I may start donating.

  18. Tim L says:

    Class of 2002 – I just wanted to point out that despite our differences of opinion expressed here in this comment section, the mere fact that we have taken the time to read the Collegian article and comment on it demonstrates to me that we all take pride in our school. It is very easy to point a finger at the problem, perhaps we should consider uniting and do something about it? I am in New York City, my wife(also a Umass Alum) and I would be happy to take part in anything that makes the University better.

  19. Chris S says:

    Great article, Ryan. As a 2001 grad I completely agree with you. Your insight is impressive. Conrats and keep up the great work!

  20. mike p says:

    Nice article, Ryan!
    I had an amazing time at UMass and feel as if it prepared me exceptionally well for the workforce. One of the best decisions I’ve made. I suppose I need to translate these sentiments into regular checks.

  21. Katharine Nash says:

    Dear Editor,
    As a current undergraduate at UMass, I feel as though I have seen much of what the school has to offer. While reading the article “Where’s our UMass Pride?” by Ryan Walsh, I found myself agreeing with many of the issues raised in regards to the level of pride in the UMass student body and the stigma attached to the school and its students.
    For example, I love UMass and knew that it was the right school for me after I visited in the fall of 2010. I had such confidence that UMass was the right school for me that I decided to apply early, and if I got in, that would be that. It was the only school I applied to, and personally, I was okay with that. The rest of my high school classmates, though, I knew would not be. For several months after I got my acceptance letter, I was reluctant to tell my classmates because of the view of UMass at my high school. It was a “safety” school, not a place where one commits because they actually love the school and believe in its academics. I found myself often saying I was “just going to UMass” in order to play it off with the same attitude my fellow classmates had. Eventually, I grew out of this and began to take pride in where I was headed, but the fact is that I originally did not is important.
    “Where’s our UMass Pride?” also tackles the “ZooMass” image that our university holds in the public opinion. I think that Walsh is right in his opinion – it IS unnecessary for students to go around bragging about how many shots they tossed back the previous weekend, or how they can’t even remember the concert they paid a pretty penny to go to. It doesn’t help that when I think of where I have seen the most school pride is tied into this stigma. Football tailgates are a breeding ground for UMass pride; it brings together current students and alumni in support of our football team. If you have ever seen a football tailgate, you know what it looks like: red cups and beer cans in every hand, drinking games, and the occasional vomitter. While yes, fun, it definitely looks like a Zoo.
    UMass students need to take more pride in where we are. The university is improving academics every year, with each incoming class boasting more and more impressive statistics. While this may be because of the economic climate – the best and brightest can no longer afford to send themselves to the pricey prestigious schools – the fact is that we are on the climb. We also need to realize that ALL schools party, and boasting about our parties does not make us superior in any sense.
    – Katharine Nash

  22. Johnny Anderson says:

    I agree Ryan. I only wish the administration would be more proactive about instilling pride in students too. Great article!

  23. mason says:

    The lack of extracurricular activities and basic activities(i.e. fun activities on campus like billiards, bowling, movie theater, et cetra that most colleges have) to encourage different students to engage and meet with one another contributes to the problem because a sense of community is not being fostered and secondly it encourages students to spend more time off campus.

  24. Kevin A. says:

    As an alum if you want me to have some pride in UMASS then give me some stats to spout out or give me something to talk about. How about telling me about some seriously groundbreaking research that is happening or some incredibly successful alums and what they are up to. And make sure you bombard me with it so that I can remember it and make it part of my daily knowledge so I can brag to co-workers and friends. Other than that I think there is a lot that people learn at a place like UMASS that they don’t get at a place like BC. Think about how the real world works and about how you learned to navigate the labyrinth of bureaucracy that exists. I for one learned much about how to work in a corporate world and the government just by the lessons that I learned at UMASS…..something I don’t think pampered private school kids learn as fast.

  25. Tucker says:

    UMass is ugly (understatement?), admits kids who aren’t competitive and don’t care all that much about academics, and doesn’t have great sports teams (sadly not many people care or pay attention to lacrosse). Of course more competitive students aren’t going to be drawn to a school that is incredibly overcrowded, is an eyesore, and doesn’t do anything or compete in anything of national importance.
    I transferred last year from UMass (the cheap(er) school- but expensive even with free tuition as compared to higher ranked public institutions) after two years to one of the schools mentioned here. I had a lot of fun at UMass but that’s about it. Loved two classes and abhorred the rest. I have no UMass pride unfortunately from my time there, only the friends I made and memories of good nights at the zoo. UMass needs a chancellor or president that can create enthusiasm and funding and a new board that sees UMass through the eyes of students and alumni.

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