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May 14, 2016

Mass. State Representatives speak at UMass Faculty Senate Meeting

Evan Sahagian/Collegian

A group of state legislators participating in a panel discussion last week came to a consensus that funding for public higher education should be less privatized.

The discussion, titled “Public Higher Education as Public Good: Reversing the Decline in State Support,” took place at last Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting.  It began with Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who moderated the talk, asking the panel and Faculty Senate if higher education is a “public good, private good or both.” Subbaswamy said that he thought it was “both,” stating that public and private goods are “closely intertwined” and that there is a considerable amount of “cross-pollination” between them.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, a Worthington Democrat who serves as vice chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said that the issue of education as a private versus public good “weighs heavily on the minds of legislators,” especially since public higher education is funded by the state. Kulik said that tax votes in the House are what influences the amount of revenue garnered by the state, which then impacts the budget for public higher education.

State Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat who serves as a member of the House and Joint Committees on Rules, stated that “public education is the cornerstone of democracy.”

Story added that “excellent state universities need to be affordable and accessible” and that “every state needs one.” She said that while there has been a lack of state support of public higher education – due to the existence of top-echelon private research institutions such as Harvard and MIT – she strongly believes that public universities need more state funding.

Stan Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat and the majority leader of the state Senate, added that he doesn’t want public education “to be overshadowed by the private sector.”

Gov. Deval Patrick has brought forward a budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014 that includes a $39 million increase in funding for the University of Massachusetts system. The proposal, officials said last month, comes closer to the goal of having half of the system’s operational costs funded by the state. The budget will be voted on by the Legislature later this year.

Subbaswamy  also asked the panelists at last week’s meeting what they think students can do to help support public higher education. Subbaswamy invited the panelists to share what it was they thought would be the most effective form of student participation, while also urging the Faculty Senate to push students toward having advocacy in legislations concerning public universities.

Rosenberg, who is also a UMass alumnus, said that students should “speak with one voice, and get behind representatives with good budget plans.”

Story echoed his sentiment, saying that students should “register to vote, get in touch with their own district representative and ask for new tax revenue.” And Kulik added that parents and family members of students should also get involved.

The panelists agreed that public institutions would benefit from bigger budgets, and that the students would gain an even greater advantage as a result. They emphasized that, as representatives of the Commonwealth, they understood that the state itself also benefit from better public education.

George Felder can be reached at gfelder@student.umass.edu.

 

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