Divest2000

UMass admins deny ‘attack’ on Labor Center

SBS Dean John Hird wrote that the university will “restore the success” of the Labor Center in an email to faculty and staff.

Photo: Students during the April 2016 sit-in for fossil fuel divestment at UMass.
(Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian)

Letters from concerned alumni and activists regarding funding cuts to the UMass Labor Center and Labor Studies master’s programs elicited a response from University of Massachusetts Amherst administrators over the weekend, with the administration attempting to dismiss the concerns of hundreds of stakeholders and accusing them of lying.

In an email obtained by The Double Standard, Dean John Hird of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences dismisses the personal account of former Labor Center director Eve Weinbaum as “untrue” and assures his colleagues that administrators just want to “restore the success of all the Center’s programs.”

Hird has also sent a similar message as a form response to emails from activists.

In the email to faculty and staff, Hird used language that does not appear in emails to the public. Hird accused the activists opposed to the administration’s decisions of being “from outside the university” and belittled their concerns as “expressing distress” before he built up some straw man arguments to attack.

Outside agitators spreading lies and deceit about the good and truthful leaders of UMass? Sounds to me like yet another standard corporate propaganda response to criticism.

UMass Amherst’s Whitmore Administration Building in September 2016. (Erica Lowenkron/Daily Collegian)
UMass Amherst’s Whitmore Administration Building in September 2016. (Erica Lowenkron/Daily Collegian)

The email never mentions Professor Weinbaum by name, but it does describe what SBS and the Sociology Department have planned for the Labor Center going forward. According to Hird, the Labor Studies program faculty have plans to grow enrollments, and Professor Tom Juravich will be the Labor Center’s interim director. Hird’s narrative focuses on “rebuilding” and “restoring” the master’s programs, the damage to which Weinbaum blames on administrators.

Hird goes on to say that the residential master’s program’s “has struggled” due to “falling enrollments” without disputing Weinbaum’s assertion that maybe the massive cost increase has something to do with that. Hird also cites that the Union Leadership and Administration program taught during the winter and summer has “a significant budget surplus,” which will fill in the budget gap until Hird and Sociology Department Chair Michelle Budig’s plan can boost enrollment.

However, Hird never disputes that administrators cut master’s funding. He never provides any justification for the removal of Weinbaum. He never discusses the transformation of academic departments into “revenue generators.” And he never promises to maintain a full curriculum.

This is propaganda, plain and simple. Yes, administrators are under immense pressure due to extreme state underfunding and edicts from UMass System President Marty Meehan that all of the campuses have to find as many cuts as possible. But there is a line, and life-long academics like Hird, Budig and Provost Katherine Newman should know when they’re crossing it.

Hird continuously harps the same tired tune throughout his email:

“I am writing to assure you of the administration’s support for the Labor Center.”

“There is no threat to the Center.”

“The narrative that the Center and its faculty are under attack is simply untrue.”

“The Labor Center has a long, distinguished history… We continue to honor that history.”

The admin doth protest too much, methinks.

Zac Bears can be reached at zac@dblstand.com.

Students during the April 2016 sit-in for fossil fuel divestment in the halls of Whitmore Administration Building at UMass Amherst. (Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)
Students during the April 2016 sit-in for fossil fuel divestment in the halls of Whitmore Administration Building. (Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Read the full email from Dean Hird below:

Dear Colleagues: Yesterday I began receiving numerous emails from outside the university expressing distress over reports that the UMass Amherst administration ‘has been cutting the Labor Center’s budget for many years’ and plans ‘to eliminate funding for the Labor Center and Master’s degree program in Labor Studies.’ Perhaps you have heard similar statements. I am writing to assure you of the administration’s support for the Labor Center. The narrative that the Center and its faculty are under attack is simply untrue.


As we begin a new academic year, the Labor Center’s future is very bright and its programs enjoy the full support of the Sociology department (in which it is housed), the College, and the central administration. The program’s faculty have developed a plan to grow enrollments in its programs, and Tom Juravich has agreed to serve as the Center’s Interim Director. There is no threat to the Center and I have great confidence that Tom and the Labor/Sociology faculty will be able to rebuild the residential program. One of the great strengths of the residential program is its placement record, and I’d encourage students interested in good careers involving economic justice, working people, and the labor movement to give this program a close look.


Although the residential MS program has struggled in recent years with falling enrollments, the limited-residency Master’s program (Union Leadership and Administration, taught winter and summer terms through CPE) has been thriving and is running a significant budget surplus. Last spring, the faculty collaborated with Michelle Budig, chair of Sociology, and me to develop a plan for rebuilding the residential program. Among other elements, that plan includes hiring a half-time staff member devoted to recruitment to the program, which we accomplished in May. The plan also includes bridge funding to support the residential program until enrollments rebound. The instructional support for the program is intact and now undergirded by the robust revenue from the limited residency program.


The Labor Center has a long, distinguished history and has graduated many students who have gone on to admirable careers. We continue to honor that history, the Center’s dedicated faculty, and its many proud alumni by working with the faculty to restore the success of all the Center’s programs.


Best wishes, and enjoy the long, Labor Day weekend.”

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