Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

This safety school is better than the elites think

An article in Sunday’s Boston Globe, detailing the struggles of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has put the school’s national standing into focus. The verdict? UMass is a second-rate public university.

Since the hiring of Chancellor Robert Holub, the University has shifted gears in terms of national standing. Where there was once a sense of complacency about its national standing there is now a drive to put the school in the upper echelon of public universities in the country.

From construction projects to admissions strategies, the administration has made a staunch effort to commit as many resources as possible to raise the school’s standing on the national stage.

The foundation of the story is that today’s prototypical, well-off, academically successful, Bay State high-schooler – let’s call him Tucker, because I hate that name – isn’t even considering his home state school, instead looking at the likes of the University of Michigan or the University of North Carolina.

Despite being twice the cost of UMass, plus airfare and countless other financial difficulties that come with going to school across the country, Tucker won’t even sniff the Amherst campus.

Why? We’re not prestigious enough. As a student quoted in the Globe said, “It’s a pride thing.”

It’s not an uncommon feeling, students thinking that they could’ve gotten into a “better” school, one that they’ve visited for a couple hours, read about in a brochure and was ranked higher on some chart somewhere.

It’s true, some students feel uncomfortable with the name on the box. It’s a feeling of regret or a missed opportunity, felt when students come to UMass, that they settled for the safety school.

But, if a student is really entitled to an Ivy League school, they’ll get more from the education than a line on a resume and bumper sticker on the rear window of their car, which in Tucker’s case is a BMW that his parents bought so he can drive to his $10,000-per semester dorm at Boston College. It’s okay, though. The family is making an investment.

Yet, the Globe brings up the notion that some people find the “predicament” of UMass “infuriating, even embarrassing.” What could possibly keep UMass from being a top-tier school?

It could be, as the article states, the school’s athletic programs aren’t up to par. “My goodness, the football team is in the Football Championship Subdivision just like William & Mary, Georgetown, Holy Cross, Villanova, University of California Davis, Delaware and, oh, the entire Ivy League. How could they possibly succeed?”

By the way, how are BU, Northeastern and Hofstra’s football teams doing nowadays?

It could be that UMass isn’t catching on in the college capital of the United States. “I mean, how could a public school competing with Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Amherst College, Williams College, Boston College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Boston University, Tufts and Smith have trouble attracting in-state students. It’s as if the school has specifically declared its intent to focus on admitting out-of-state students.”

But it’s most likely that it’s because the school is stuck in a state that is spinning its wheels on public college spending, has one of the lowest endowments in the country, gets little funding from alumni, “deteriorating concrete buildings” and a party school reputation.

These are all things that the article mentions.

But, at the same time, every time UMass took a shot, there was upside. There’s a budget crisis, but the administration is looking to get on track and restore faculty. The football team is not in the best division, but the hockey home-crowds are some of the largest in the country. The Integrated Sciences Building, nursing building and Recreation Center are state-of-the-art.

However, if Deval Patrick would like UMass to have the same fancy facilities and dorms as those in California state schools, maybe this state should have the same funding for public higher education.

The article is a gut-punch for every student and faculty member- past, present and future- from another privileged institution trying to look down from its overpriced, overrated ivory tower at what they’ll always assume is still ZooMass, despite dropping out of the national party school ranking years ago.

Meanwhile, the nation’s premiere public universities would never be disgraced by such a label. Except for the fact that half of The Princeton Review top 12 party schools this year are ranked in the top 20 public universities by U.S. News & World Report.

So yes, UMass is a second-tier school in Massachusetts. But compared to Harvard and MIT, you know what would be? Michigan, North Carolina and Texas. In arguably the most prestigious academic environment in the world, it’s a little hard for the public school on the other side of the state to stick out.

But UMass does. It lives and continually improves in this environment, constantly building a reputation that could someday challenge the old guard.

Am I saying that the Globe article is part of a concerted effort from the prestigious Boston intellectual institutions to put down UMass in the fear that an affordable, quality education could challenge the academic monopoly established out east? No. But the Globe’s comment section is.

Still, UMass is going to be the rising underdog in this state for the foreseeable future, and Tucker will still thumb his nose at us because the name on his hoodie isn’t good enough for his parents’ money. He doesn’t want the “safety school.” But, you know what?

We don’t want him.

Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • B

    Bob schoolsSep 21, 2019 at 8:45 pm

    At the undergraduate level, UMASS Amherst totally sucks. As an Amherst resident and a umass pre-med major all of my 4-credit courses had over 200 students. Just try getting some academic assistance from some useless, unionized, tenured, working 5 hours a week state of Massachusetts employee (professor..) who couldn’t give a rats ass about his/her students. I know the type, because I grew up alongside friends whose parents taught at UMASS and none of them were even remotely dedicated to their students.
    Meanwhile, just across the street at Amherst College a student is taking the very same courses with only 25 other students and getting the personal attention needed to succeed!
    As for Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, I dated many women at each school and both schools are extremely overated and nothing but a bunch of liberal arts diploma factories for rich girls with nothing but air between their ears. A Mount Holyoke woman that I dated had never been required to write even a basic essay until her senior year, couldn’t do it, and so I ended up writing them for her (and was amply rewarded!) Then there’s the ultimate waste of a school, Hampshire “College,” where the kids of the rich get to spend $50 grand annually of their parents $$$ to attend a “college” where they just make up any degree they want. Seriously, just try living and going to college at UMass Amherst, a Massachusetts public college dump, located in close proximity to all of these elitist, pompous, private school airheads…
    Lastly, why is Amherst, the east coast capital of political correctness, still called Amherst, when it is named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a butcher of indigenous Indians, who used disease laden blankets to kill them in the first use of biological weapons? The hypocrisy is astounding..
    I could go on and on about UMass and the local area but why waste my time? Yes, I graduated, moved on, and have been successful. But I very much regret having attended UMASS Amherst and recommend your going to school elsewhere.

    • A

      Andrew SwingleNov 14, 2021 at 11:33 pm

      I totally agree, and this is even before covid, during and after Covid umass continues to become a worse and worse school the professors don’t care about your well being, the administration could care less about your personal finances, and umass continues to become a place that I despise with a burning passion. Please for the love of god don’t come to this school.

  • T

    TuckerJun 14, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Three reasons UMass isn’t on par with these schools and doesn’t draw better applicants to attend. I can attest to the validity of these because I went to UMass for 2 years before transferring out. I went over more prestigious schools I was admitted to because it was the cheap option. I don’t regret my time there, but I am very glad to have left.
    1) Academics: Massive classes into junior and senior year, students aren’t admitted very selectively, and programs of study aren’t compelling enough
    2) Setting: Ugly school. Look at the highest ranked schools in the country and most of them will have absolutely beautiful campuses. UMass is concrete on concrete on concrete
    3) Reputation: Party school. This is the distinction that UMass has earned- at least for in-state students. I’m not sure if this contributes to the low ranking of UMass or is an effect of it, but most higher ranking schools are known first for their academics and sports before their parties.
    In short, I think UMass is an everyman’s school- a place where students with decent grades that can’t afford to go to other schools in the area go because they have to. It’s not a dream school like higher ranked public schools are, and won’t become one until it’s academics are made more interesting, rigorous, and personal; it’s campus is replaced with a much nicer one, and it earns a reputation for more than its parties.

  • J

    jim morganSep 13, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    In response to some of Bob Merkin’s comments:
    Not trying to compare UMASS to Michigan or Cal/Berkeley, but your comments about the pristene nature of the sports program at the 2 schools cannot go unchallenged.
    NCAA D-I football graduation rates:
    Ave. — 55%
    Cal/Berkeley 44% (9th out of 10 in the Pac 10)
    Michigan — 58% Just above average but 8th in the Big Ten
    NCAA D-I Basketball graduations rates:
    Ave. — 51%
    Cal/Berkeley 38% (again 9th out of 10 in the conference)
    Michigan 44% behind such academic powerhouses such as Oklahoma and Michigan State.
    As to party school reputations, I personally know 2 students who went to Michigan (both good students ranked in the top 10% of their HS classes). The first was taken out of school middle of sophomore year with barely passing grades after a drug arrest and the second transferred after freshman year because he was unhappy with the heavy party scene.
    Granted, 2 isolated anecdotes, but my point being there is good and bad EVERYWHERE.

  • B

    Bob MerkinSep 13, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Honda CRV, New York University

    I just wish, in the middle of Nick O’Malley’s passionate defense of UMass, he hadn’t suddenly blurted:

    “By the way, how are BU, Northeastern and Hofstra’s football teams doing nowadays?”

    Focus, boy, focus! It’s not about men’s team sports! That’s not why universities and colleges were invented!

  • M

    MegSep 12, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    I’d just like to add my two cents as a person who actually holds an undergraduate degree from UMass Amherst and knows firsthand what it’s like to have that line on my resume. I have never once had a prospective employer “politely grunt and giggle” at my education, as Mr. Merkin suggested above. As a matter of fact, I have a great job and a diverse group of friends who are also successful UMass grads working as nurses, teachers and journalists, or who are enrolled in med school, officers in the Air Force or earning graduate degrees overseas. They all love what they do, and they all love UMass, and not in a “‘Be True To Your School’ punch-in-the-nose” kind of way, but in an appreciative, “I owe a lot of who I am today to my experience at UMass” kind of way. This country certainly has a number of other fantastic state schools, and I’m by no means putting them down, but I got a first-rate education at UMass. Plus, I have half as much debt as many of my friends who have what some people may consider a more prestigious degree. And it’s important to remember that actually does make a difference when you’re on the job search, because I can do something I enjoy rather than worrying about simply having a way to pay off my loans.

    To Nick and any other UMass students reading this: Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re doomed to a life of career failure by what school you chose. Like everything else, college is what you make of it.

  • D

    DerrickSep 12, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    UMass Amherst is a fine school.

    And there are a lot of reasons why it’s not recognized as such, from competition (Harvard, Amherst, etc.), to location, to funding, to anything else you can think of. Keep in mind the Commonwealth has committed itself to providing affordable higher education to all citizens, spawning a plethora of UMass campuses, state colleges and community colleges that draw from the same pocketbook. Other states, as has been pointed out above, don’t find the same need to do so.

    Alums do find jobs, the degree is worth something and the education you’ll get there is world-class (this is no correspondence degree we’re talking about). Don’t flip the bird at those who look down on your degree; you’ve got the rest of your life to prove them mistaken.

    Oh, and I hope the above commentator (Bob) is speaking from experience. Because if he’s not, he’s just another Volvo-driving, white-collar, U-Michigan grad with too much free time on his hands. Man, sometimes I don’t miss western Mass. at all. Mostly because of the people.

    That was the only downside of my education at UMass.

  • B

    Bob MerkinSep 11, 2010 at 11:55 am

    I’ve been a neighbor — 15 minutes away — of UMass Amherst for almost 30 years. I’ve taken continuing education courses at UMass, and belonged to the WMUA community. I know the school very well, and for a lot longer than your driveby experience there.

    There are a few aspects of UMass I admire and consider world-class — just for examples, the Stockbridge School, the Conte Polymer Research Center, the theater department, and the unique economics department.

    But overwhelmingly, the undergrad side of UMass … well, look, I don’t want to break your heart, and I don’t want to whip up your “Be True To Your School” punch-in-the-nose impulse …

    UMass Amherst sucks. It’s a Grade D binge-drinking basketball football embarrassment that has the legal right to call itself a state university, print sweatshirts, and issue diplomas. So it does.

    I wouldn’t have bothered to comment, but you chose the worst possible university to sneer at: The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

    That’s a real university, and kids (even kids who play team men’s sports) get through it with a degree as impressive and prestigious as a degree from Harvard, MIT or Cambridge UK. Employers know a U-Michigan grad, in any major, worked hard to master the toughest academic standards. In the sciences, U-Michigan has been the birthplace of revolutionary discoveries, one after the other, for a century.

    For what it’s worth, U-Michigan’s students are as wild about their sports programs as UMass students.

    Where the schools differ is that, at U-Michigan, men’s football and basketball come SECOND. There’s never been an NCAA corruption scandal. The sports programs have never tainted or embarrassed the academic reputation of the university. U-Michigan’s head coaches are at the top of the national game — but they scrupulously never pull stunts and scams whose victims — as everybody at UMass knows — are the student players.

    Other state universities you should be very cautious about comparing UMass to: University of California at Berkeley (and several other UC campuses), University of Wisconsin at Madison.

    These states had the same historical needs for a state university, but from their founding, determined that their state universities would offer their state’s kids an affordable education every bit as superb as the Ivy League.

    I don’t know what to tell you about the Binge-Drinking Basketball Party you chose to attend. You’ll enter the working world in a bad economy with a degree that prospective employers will politely grunt and giggle at. And then hire somebody else. They’ll have several other state university grads from whom to choose.

    I’m not urging you to transfer and flee.

    But Massachusetts’ politicians, and the university administrators they appoint as political rewards, have kept UMass Amherst as a crap school for long before you or I got here.

    And have every intention of keeping it a crap school for the foreseeable future.

    They care about a lot of things. Their undergrads are the last thing they care about. You’re the last thing they care about.

    All your angry school pride won’t change the workforce value of your UMass degree. “Respect my school or I’ll punch you in the face” doesn’t cut it.

    What I would urge you to do is, for the first time in living memory, organize your fellow undergrads to demand a damned fine academic university. Punish the administrators when they penalize academics for their precious sports programs. Reward the administrators every time they spend money on excellence in academics. Cheer for the establishment of a world-class academic chair as loudly as you cheer for making the Final Four.

    It’s your four (or five or six) years of your life. The politicians and administrators aren’t going to increase the value of your time there. They’re happy to graduate you with a big unemployable joke on your t-shirt.

    So that leaves you.

  • J

    Jim MorganSep 7, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    As a father of 4, whose youngest in an out of state student at UMASS, I have been through the college admission process 4 very different times and would like to address some of your comments.
    –Admitting out of state students is a very common practice among virtually ALL public universities (UNC/Chapel Hill is over 20%, U of Colorado is over 50%)for 2 very basic reasons. The first and most important (even if they will not admit it) is money — out of state tuition is usually at least double the in state rate. The second is an attempt to diversify the student body — after all, does everyone have to be a Red Sox or Patriots fan??
    –The endowments of the other public universities you mention in the article (particularly those in the south) are so much larger because for so many years (and in many cases, remain so today) they were the only quality option in the state. Now someone will surely respond with the name of a good school in one of those states, but my point is a family/student here in the northeast has so many other options compared to other regions of the country (and like it or not, the money to pay for it). I believe there is an unfair stigma attached to public schools here in the northeast as compared to other regions of the country — not sure why it exists, but it does.
    –Then there is the question of cost. Are all of those private schools you mention (and many others) worth a price tag double your in state UMASS costs? Over the years we have visited everyone of them and my kids have been accepted to just about all of them, one attended and the others didn’t for their own reasons. But I do know from experience – an exorbitant price tag DOES NOT guarantee a good education. Whatever the cost, it is up to the student to decide whether he/she will take advantage of what every school has to offer. And by the way, I don’t know if the zoomass name was appropriate or deserved, but I can definitively tell you that a very heavy party atmosphere
    exists at several of the schools you mentioned even with their “elite” $50,000/yr price tags. I will acknowledge as a parent it initially felt special to have that Ivy league decal on the car window, but now I proudly surround it with the other 3 school decals, UMASS/Amherst included!

  • U

    UmassAlum2007Sep 7, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Nick O’Malley, I appreciate you trying to rally support and boost morale among UMass students. The Boston Globe article can feel like a sucker punch. However, I think we all need to take a step back and really look at the school the way others do, as the article suggests.

    Like it or not, UMass DOES NEED students like Tucker. Tucker and others like him have higher GPAs, SAT scores, strong ambitions, and most likely higher chances of success after college (better jobs, high salaries). READ: Tucker and his friends can boost UMass’ rankings and can donate more money to fund UMass’ endowment.

    There’s no need to be so defensive. We need to accept reality – yes UMass has made many improvements, but there’s much more to be done.

    Lastly, high school students like Tucker are not all from wealthy families. They’re not all snobby elitists. They are people who have worked very hard in high school so they can goto the best colleges and universities because those schools offer the best post-undergrad opportunities. It’s a very American thing to do. No need to demonize Tucker and his pals.

  • L

    Lori TarpinianSep 7, 2010 at 11:48 am

    I was told about this article and before reading it I thought I had a pretty good idea as to why it was written. After reading it I believe that my assessment of the intent was correct.
    UMASS Amherst is trying to raise money and to that end they are making more offers than they should to out of state students. This article attempts to justify those actions.
    Truth is, they have rejected many fabulous in state applicants this past year – when you know that you can see that the article is very transparent.

  • J

    johnSep 7, 2010 at 2:17 am

    “Where there was once a sense of complacency about its national standing there is now a drive to put the school in the upper echelon of public universities in the country.”
    I am a student at umass and I wanted to add a few comments. The aritcle’s reference was to the school’s precipitous decline since the mid 90s. For example the school’s endowment is almost at the exact level it is now, which doesn’t adjust for inflation, increased students or the skyrocketing costs of college. I believe it is this main reason as long as the other stated in the article, why the school has declined.

    I agree with comments regarding Umass comparison to elite schools in boston; even locally we pale in comparison. Compared to the great liberal art colleges of amherst, mount holyoke and Smith. Due to the reasons people often unfarily ignore Umass and see it as a just a plain state school and now for what it truly is.
    However many things need to happen. For one our endowment is pathetic to say the least; to put into perspective the school the chancellor came from(university of Tennessee) has 3 times the budget of ours; 600 million versus 200. Their research budget alone was close to our entire endowment. Or another way of looking at is, despite the fact we have 20 times as many students the endowment of amherst is close to 2 billion dollars, a tenth of what we have 200 million.
    Also the school’s alumni giving rate is very low and the chancellor’s solution to fund raising seems is to build more dormitories and attract out of state students. That is not a very functional plan and does little raise our academic quality and reputation. For the past 10 years we have admitted more students and our endowment continues to fall along with the school’s national recognition.

    We are still a great university but we once so much better and the ambition to reach that status and further is admirable and hope attainable.