Stop the cuts, tap the UMass stabilization fund

The current pandemic. qualifies as an emergency situation

The following was written as an open letter to the Legislature by UMass-Dartmouth’s contingent English faculty, with Eric Casero, a lecturer in the English Department, as the point of contact.

WE ARE WRITING to urge you to pressure the UMass system’s Board of Trustees to use its $114 million stabilization fund to address UMass’s budget crisis in FY 21. This approach is far superior to balancing the budget on the backs of students and essential faculty and staff, as the board is currently proposing. We also urge you to at least level-fund the UMass system after adjusting for inflation.

We are writing to you as contingent faculty in the English department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. “Contingent” means that we work on short-term contracts with relatively low wages and few protections. When people think about college professors, they often envision tenured faculty members who enjoy high levels of job security. Our contingent status, however, is not unusual; according to the latest data from the American Association of University Professors, non-tenure track faculty make up about 73 percent of faculty across US college campuses. In other words, we are the new normal.

The work we do is essential not only for preparing students for their upper-level classes, but for making sure that they can succeed and therefore remain enrolled at UMass-Dartmouth. We primarily teach first-year English courses, in which we work with students who are new to college. We help our students to not only write essays and read complicated texts, but to manage stress, keep a schedule of homework, and email their professors.

UMass-Dartmouth now faces a budget crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. With lowered enrollment and lower capacity to house students on campus, UMass-Dartmouth simply doesn’t have the same level of revenue that it takes in during a normal semester.

Our university leadership is putting much of the burden for this budget crisis on faculty, staff, and students. Faculty are taking pay cuts, with many at risk of losing their jobs. These cuts hurt students, as faculty members are stretched thin, unable to offer the support that they would normally provide.

All of this pain is being inflicted despite the existence of the stabilization fund. The stabilization fund is intended to be used to fund the university system during emergencies, and most of us would agree that the current pandemic qualifies as an emergency situation. Despite the existence of this fund, faculty, staff, and students are being asked to sacrifice their livelihoods and educational opportunities.

UMass’s board of trustees has argued that we need to preserve the stabilization fund to ensure the future “financial flexibility” of UMass’s campuses. Whatever that phrase means, it fails to acknowledge the human cost of this pandemic. And it ignores the very real financial vulnerability of the people who perform the essential work of this system; the people who guide students to success and whose livelihoods, families, and careers are now at great risk through no fault of their own.

It is clear that multiple options exist for addressing the budget shortfall, so why are our leaders opting for the options that most negatively impact workers and students? By cutting salary, as has happened at UMass-Dartmouth, or by laying off workers, as has happened at other UMass campuses, including UMass-Boston, our leaders have demonstrated that they do not care about students’ educations and workers’ well-being as much as they care about preserving a public image of financial stability.

Meet the Author

Eric Casero

Lecturer, English Department, UMass Dartmouth
We ask that you work with UMass’s board of trustees and president, Marty Meehan, to release UMass’s stabilization fund. We appeal to you as people in positions of influence and power within the state and ask that you use this power to help our faculty, staff, and students, many of whom are your own constituents. UMass-Dartmouth is a linchpin of the South Coast’s economy, and by properly funding the university, we can act in the best interest of the region.

UMass Dartmouth’s contingent English faculty wrote this op-ed, with Eric Casero, a lecturer in the English Department as the point of contact.