Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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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

UMass reverses decision, reinstates Undergraduate Research Conference

(Collegian File Photo)
(Collegian File Photo)

The University of Massachusetts has reinstated the Undergraduate Research Conference just one day after an email from Provost Katherine Newman announced this year’s event would be cancelled.

Newman initially emailed faculty Wednesday night announcing the cancellation of the event due to a lack of funding because of budgetary reductions. On Thursday, Newman sent another email to faculty saying the conference will be reinstated after the State University Council of Presidents and the Department of Higher Education came forward with enough funding to stage the conference.

Newman wrote that the state university presidents and the Department of Higher Education will help support the cost of the conference, which is scheduled to hold its 20th annual event April 22. The conference provides undergraduate students at public institutions across Massachusetts an outlet to present various types of research work.

The conference is projected to cost $85,000, according to UMass spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski. He said that UMass will continue to “pay the majority” of the conference, and that the funding from State University Council of Presidents and the Department of Higher Education will contribute to only a portion of the total cost.

Thursday’s proposal comes amid significant backlash from the student body regarding the cancellation of the event. Students took to social media to voice their concerns over the University’s decision, and the Student Government Association sent an open letter to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Newman requesting the University reverse its decision.

The letter was signed by Chris Earls, SGA secretary of University policy, Sionan Barrett, SGA president, and Lauren Coakley, SGA speaker. It highlighted a number of concerns from student leadership, including their concern over UMass’ overall spending and the timing of the initial announcement.

“It certainly comes as a relief,” Earls said of the reinstatement when reached by phone Thursday afternoon.

“At the same time, a lot of the concerns that were in the letter we sent to them are, I believe, still valid,” he said.

The Undergraduate Research Conference began as a UMass Amherst event in 1995 and expanded statewide three years later. According to the conference’s website, approximately 1,000 students participated in the event last year. It is co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Honors College and the Massachusetts System of Public Higher Education, and features undergraduate research work from roughly 70 areas of study.

Some UMass students, such as Earls, were concerned with the timing of the initial announcement. Many students enrolled in capstone or thesis classes within the Commonwealth Honors College are required to present their work at a conference such as the Undergraduate Research Conference, according to Earls. Students within the honors college were told to contact professors regarding their research work and to plan accordingly in an email by CHC Dean Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina Wednesday night, prior to the conference’s reinstatement.

Earls, who is conducting an honors thesis project, said the Newman’s method of announcing the decision via email as students finished final exams and asking them to find alternative plans was “irresponsible.”

Funding for the conference has also come into question at a time where the UMass system must make system-wide financial cuts.

UMass must slash $5.5 million from its fiscal budget this year, according to Blaguszewski. The Boston Globe reported in October that the UMass system must cut $10.9 million from this year’s fiscal budget after the state Senate voted against allocating additional funding to the system — something president Marty Meehan lobbied for this year.

Blaguszewski said the University is in a “belt-tightening” phase. He said UMass has refrained from filling certain job vacancies on campus and has taken a closer look at reducing “campus-wide events and celebration expenditures” as the University aims to balance its budget.

An event such as the Undergraduate Research Conference was one of the events the University examined, he said.

Yet the SGA letter took aim at the UMass system’s spending in its open letter to Newman. A recent Boston Herald report found that at least some UMass administrators have seen recent pay raises under Meehan and have moved into a Beacon Hill office that costs $1.5 million more than their previous office.

The letter said it was “disheartening” to see the conference’s funding come into question in light of these pay increases, and questioned whether UMass is placing academic excellence as its highest priority.

UMass Communications Director Ann Scales defended the system’s compensation increases, saying its necessary to retain high-level talent.

“UMass has an established practice of setting compensation at levels similar to those found at peer institutions,” Scales said.


Kristin LaFratta contributed to this report. Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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