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UMass Amherst admins force out Labor Center director

UMass to gut Labor Studies program unless it becomes a “revenue generator,” says former director.

Photo: A 2011 UMass rally in solidarity with Wisconsin labor unions.
(Hannah Cohen/Daily Collegian)

Update: Monday, September 5, 2:00 p.m: UMass admins deny ‘attack’ on Labor Center

Ongoing conflicts regarding the potential closure of the Labor Center at UMass Amherst exploded into the open over the weekend after a letter by former director Eve Weinbaum was published by the Union of Radical Political Economics. Weinbaum outlines her discussions with administrators over the past year in the letter, which is a stinging indictment of dirty tricks and dishonest managerial practices.

When Weinbaum left on sabbatical in July 2015, Provost Katherine Newman and College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) administrators, including Dean John Hird and Sociology Department Chair Michelle Budig, decided to cut all funding for graduate students and part-time faculty in the Labor Studies programs. Administrators cut the director’s position from 12-months to 9-months, a huge cut in salary with no change in responsibilities.

Administrative dishonesty continued this spring and summer. Weinbaum filed grievances because proposed cuts violated the faculty union contract. The Provost’s Office refused to settle the grievances unless Weinbaum stepped down as Director so they could appoint someone who wouldn’t defend the program against their cuts. Soon after, Budig sent an email that said Weinbaum had “resigned,” even though she had not. SBS dismissed Weinbaum as director on September 1. Budig will appoint a new director without input from the program.

Newman, Hird and Budig did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

So why are administrators playing shady games with Weinbaum and the Labor Center? Money.

UMass as a ‘Revenue Generator’

“Administrators explained that they would only allow the Labor Studies Master’s degree program to continue to exist if it served as a ‘revenue generator’ – to fund other parts of the University outside the Labor Center,” Weinbaum wrote in her letter.

The actions of Newman and Hird seem to stem from two sources.

First, public higher education in Massachusetts is severely underfunded by the state legislature. This puts pressure on all academic departments to maximize revenue from a variety of sources, such as online courses, master’s programs like Labor Studies, out-of-state undergraduate recruitment, international student enrollment, summer activities and alumni donations.

Second, the Joint Task Force on Resource Allocation (JTFRA) recommended new budgeting practices on the UMass campus in 2014, some of which have been or will be adopted. JTFRA is a group of stakeholders from across campus advised by private consultants. Their report pushed UMass administrators to adopt “evidence-based resource allocation,” which sounds good at first glance. However, the “evidence” in most cases seems to be whether or not a program is a “revenue generator.”

 

Timothy Sutton, then a graduate student in the Department of Communication, was concerned that JTFRA’s conclusions would hurt some departments way back in 2014: 

“The customized (model) developed by the JTFRA under Huron’s guidance is intended to align budgeting decisions with strategic goals, goals that are themselves a form of neoliberal governance,” Sutton wrote in a 2014 Daily Collegian op-ed. “Deans are going to be ‘incentivized’ to keep costs down and be as efficient as possible in order to be as strategic as possible while they start looking for new revenue streams. These streams include aligning research priorities with national and state priorities (in pursuit of the dollars attached), and increasing out-of-state enrollment, but not turning around the decades-long decline in funding from the state. Teaching and research are seen as sources of revenue, not common goods in and of themselves.”

A Labor Center poster at a 2011 teach-in. (Evan Sahagian/Daily Collegian)
A Labor Center poster at a 2011 teach-in. (Evan Sahagian/Daily Collegian)

Here we are, two years later, with Sutton’s nightmare becoming a reality. And this nightmare isn’t contained to the Labor Center or the Labor Studies program.

Last year, I had several discussions with colleagues on the UMass campus about plans from Provost Newman’s office to make significant changes to the College of Education’s master’s program. According to these sources, most of the grants and other resources provided to master’s degree candidates would be shifted to the doctoral program.

A few months later, College of Education Dean Christine McCormick and Associate Deans Joseph Berger and Linda Griffin resigned at the same time in February 2016. No reason was given.

Restricting Access to Higher Education

These cuts mean the Labor Center is no longer accessible to all people. Weinbaum wrote that administrators told the Labor Center to seek out “only students who can afford to pay full tuition, preferably out-of-state, which is currently $31,733 each year.”

They’ve also been forced to “shrink the curriculum, cut electives and eliminate some required courses… all in order to lay off faculty and cut costs.”

Worst of all, Newman, Hird and Budig’s actions endanger “the premier graduate program in the country for… those interested in potential careers in the labor movement.”

UMass administrators always support innovative programs in science and engineering. Administrators definitely don’t have any problems with the highly-profitable Isenberg School of Management. However, administrators don’t seem to care about unique, nationally-renowned programs in the humanities and social sciences. I guess they don’t bring in enough money.

How You Can Help the Labor Center

Weinbaum requests that Labor Center supporters take action to oppose these cuts:

“If you want to weigh in, please contact these administrators:

  • Sociology Department Chair Michelle Budig: budig@umass.edu
  • SBS Dean John Hird: jhird@umass.edu
  • Provost Katherine Newman: ksnewman@umass.edu
  • And please send a copy to Director Weinbaum: weinbaum@umass.edu

We are asking administrators to reverse the cuts to Labor Studies; to restore our graduate student funding and externships; to maintain our full curriculum; to honor the Labor Studies faculty’s autonomy to make programmatic decisions and to designate a Director; and to commit that the Labor Center is an integral part of the University’s educational mission, not just a profit center to subsidize other programs.”

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

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