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

Chancellor Reyes kicks off first listening session with SBS college

Accessibility concerns over SBS academic buildings discussed during listening session
Daniel Frank/Daily Collegian

On September 12, 2023, University of Massachusetts Chancellor Javier Reyes met with faculty and students in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the first of a series of listening sessions intended to help formulate the new chancellor’s strategic plan.

The strategic plan is meant to outline the next five to 10 years and will be constructed through listening sessions with colleges within UMass. There will be conversations with various faculty, the Student Government Association, the Graduate Student Senate, Faculty Senate and student leaders. Reyes’ email also states that the plan should be finalized by the beginning of Fall 2024.

Dean R. Karl Rethemeyer, along with Senior Associate Dean of Education and Student Development Lynn Phillips, Senior Associate Dean of Research and Faculty Development Jennifer Lundquist and Associate Dean of Equity and Inclusion Kathy Forde presented SBS’s strategic plan.

Rethemeyer presented SBS’s mission statement, “Our mission is to provide solutions to global challenges and prepare students to make those solutions a reality.”

The presentation covered the college’s goals, successes in admissions and building up of experiential learning programs such as SBS in D.C., but most emphasis was placed in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Our efforts to diversify the faculty are designed to provide students with mentors that are more likely to have shared their life experiences,” Rethemeyer said.

One such diversity effort discussed in the presentation was SBS RISE, or Remedying Inequity through Student Engagement.

“We created SBS RISE to serve the 52 percent of SBS students who identify as BIPOC, first-gen or from families who have low income,” Phillips said.

Phillips noted that attracting students to SBS majors has become challenging and SBS faculty are “working very hard” to rebuild the undergraduate population to 5,000.

“In recent years, we’ve been challenged by a broader cultural skepticism about the value of liberal arts education,” Phillips said. “The headset that says that your major is your career is hard to combat.”

Along with attracting new students to SBS programs, Phillips stressed the growing issue of faculty retention.

“We’ve been great at recruiting really high-quality faculty,” said Phillips. “But as their profiles rise we cannot provide the resources required to keep them at UMass.”

This issue is in part due to a “total grant activity [that] lags our size.” SBS has been making strides to address this, with research awards having increased 28.7 percent in real dollars since 2017, as similar institutions saw a drop in funding.

Following the 45-minute presentation, the panel became open to questions that could be directed towards either the SBS panel or Reyes. Most questions were asked by students in attendance, who often voiced concerns relating to the accessibility of SBS buildings.

“The classrooms [in Machmer] do not support the student-centered collaborative experiences that SBS needs,” audience member Saffron Turner, a senior sociology major said.

Machmer Hall was built in 1957 and does not contain any elevator or ramp to the upper floor. This was brought up as an accessibility issue by Turner and others.

Rethemeyer said that SBS was beginning a conversation with Campus Planning to find solutions for Machmer as well as Draper Hall, where the Dean’s office is.

“We would like to see in the future a building that could replace Machmer Hall,” Rethemeyer said.

Reyes, speaking from the audience, expressed concern that Machmer Hall was in that state and reassured students that the listening series was designed so student concerns would be incorporated into the new strategic planning initiative.

“Rome was not built in a day, but it was started in one,” Reyes said.

The listening sessions will continue as the Chancellor visits the different colleges of UMass.

Daniel Frank can be reached at [email protected]. Jack Underhill can be reached at [email protected] and followed on X (formally known as Twitter) @JackUnderhill16

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