Cross-state march for higher ed to stop at UMass

By Sam Butterfield

Students, faculty, staff and other parties supporting public higher education will leave from Berkshire Community College Saturday on a six-day, 100 mile march across the state to advocate for greater funding levels for public higher education. The protesters will stop by the University of Massachusetts campus around 6 p.m. Sunday.

The march will culminate Thursday, Oct. 7 with what a Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) release called “a huge rally” at the State House in Boston. October 7 has been designated a National Day to Defend Public Education, and similar rallies will be taking place across the country.

Marchers will hold events at Berkshire Community College and Westfield State before arriving at UMass Sunday. Upon their arrival, there will be an informal dinner held at Bartlett Hall. The next day, UMass will host a send-off party for the marchers at 8:15 a.m., with various local figures speaking on their behalf, including State Sen. Stan Rosenberg, State Rep. Ellen Story, SGA Speaker Modesto Montero, and president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors Randall Phillis.

In the Thursday release, various individuals affiliated with Massachusetts’ higher educational system expressed concern about funding and support for public higher ed.

“I am walking because I’m concerned about the future of the Commonwealth as we continue to divest from public higher education,” said Mickey Gallagher, Higher Education Consultant with the Massachusetts Teachers Association and an alumna of UMass Amherst.  “Privatization of this essential public good results in an education system dependent upon the goals and aspirations of private entities.”

“I am walking because education is very important to me,” said Manuel Pintado, a student at Holyoke Community College and UMass Amherst in the release. “Seeing us marching together will show that education should be affordable for everyone no matter what color, race, creed or age.”

After next week’s rally in Boston, PHENOM organizers will bring lawmakers’ signed petitions calling on legislators to increase state support for public higher education to the national average and to decrease student costs to a similar national level.

The rally comes on the heels of news that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has allocated $55 million of federal stimulus funds to the Commonwealth’s public education system.

Sarah Nathan, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said in a release that the state’s educators were pleased with this move.

“We thank the governor for his deep and ongoing commitment to public education and to Massachusetts students. The governor could have spent this stimulus money in many worthwhile ways, but in making today’s announcement he showed his understanding of the needs of our students, our community colleges, our state universities and UMass,” she said Thursday.

Massachusetts spends just 3.9 percent of its state budget on public higher education, currently ranking it number 46 of 50 states in public higher education spending per capita. The state has cut funding proportionally to higher education by the largest amount of any state over the last five years, according to the PHENOM release. Among states which spend more per citizen on public higher education are Mississippi, Alabama and Alaska.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]