Campus forum focuses on University’s financial state and campus climate survey

By Marie MacCune

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Campus administrators spoke to an audience of roughly 50 people during the “Campus Forum: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” event Wednesday night. Members of the University of Massachusetts community were invited to ask questions and voice concerns.

Andy Mangels, associate vice chancellor of finance and budget director, provided a PowerPoint presentation, going over the University’s financial status heading to Fiscal Year 17.

According to Mangels, there are three major cost drivers for UMass: financial aid, debt service and salary increases. All three have been on the rise for the past decade, and are expected to continue to grow.

For FY16, the entire UMass system received $532 million in funding from the Commonwealth. The Amherst campus received $253 million of that, which accounts for about 22 percent of its total operating budget. An additional 28 percent of its operating budget is funded by tuition and fees. The other half comes from a variety of sources including grants, donations and sales.

“All of us are sensitive to the cost of education,” Mangels said.

Mangles also explained that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed a one percent budget increase from the University, which would result in about $2.5 million in extra funding.

UMass is currently facing a $14 million deficit in a worst-case scenario, according to Mangels. This would mean that the legislature would choose not to increase the University’s funding beyond the governor’s proposal.

UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy has requested that all campus areas submit reduced budgets in preparation for this possibility, Mangels said.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives is set to release its budget next Wednesday.

Following his presentation, Mangels was asked about the University’s choice to fund a $21 million restoration of the Old Chapel over other projects.

Subbaswamy stepped in to answer for Mangels saying, “The state has been really negligent in maintaining buildings in public education.” As a result, Subbaswamy said the University chose to pay for these renovations itself.

Subbaswamy gave examples of old buildings such as Morrill Science Center, Bartlett Hall and Hills House, explaining that the longer the University waits to renovate older buildings on campus, the higher the costs rise.

Sïonan Barrett, president of the UMass Student Government Association, asked about plans for building a new student union.

Mangels said that the administration is “currently digesting information from the student experience master plan survey” and knows that a new student union is a “high priority” for both students and the University.

Mangels added the University is looking at the costs of bringing the Hatch up to code.

The chancellor emphasized that Massachusetts is far behind other states in terms of higher education investments, saying “for 30 years there’s been really nothing spent on this campus.”

“UMass borrows more than any other public campus,” he continued. “And we’re at a debt limit so we can no longer borrow.”

Shelly Perdomo, interim assistant vice chancellor for advocacy, inclusion and support programs and chair of the Diversity Strategic Planning Steering Committee, provided the audience with updates regarding the committee. She primarily focused on the developing plans for a campus climate survey to better gauge the student experience at UMass. The committee is expected to present plans to the chancellor in May.

According to Perdomo, the committee is currently looking at three different methods of implementing the survey.

The first, she said would be done entirely internally. The second option involves hiring an external consulting firm with expertise in campus climate to control the whole process. She called the third method a “hybrid” of the first two, involving internal and external participation.

A major challenge in conducting the survey would be “getting folks to buy in to this important effort,” Perdomo said. The data collected in the survey will inform the student experience master plan.

In response to a question posed by senior nutrition major Bria Gadsden concerning the disparity between living areas, Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor of student affairs and student life, said part of the master plan is looking at the costs of renovating Southwest Residential Area.

“We know that where you live really matters,” said Gelaye, adding that the administration knows the “disparity impacts our students.”

Subbaswamy was quick to add that “having a plan is not the same as having the finances for it,” in terms of renovating forms.

Gadsden later told the Massachusetts Daily Collegian that she has lived in Southwest for the past two years. She said she came to the forum because “diversity is very important and having these meetings are great, however there’s not a lot of students here and I wanted to come and represent them.”

SGA president-elect Anthony Vitale echoed Gadsden’s sentiment, telling the Collegian that getting more students to these forums is a priority for him.

Vitale added that he “appreciates the administration working alongside the students.”

Marie MacCune can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MarieMacCune.