Collins steps up for UMass Boston, files bills to enhance, protect campus budget

State Rep. Nick Collins has filed three state budget amendments related to UMass operations that he said were intended to help close the Boston campus’ budget gap and ensure that no state funds would be used for private college acquisitions. Ultimately the funding was not needed in the budget, Collins said, but a component included in a bulk amendment secured important protections for UMass Boston centers.

The filings come into play as the UMass system grapples with UMass Amherst’s purchase of Mount Ida College and the role of UMass Boston within the state university’s organization.

As included in a consolidated amendment including about $14 million in new education and local aid funding, the House included language that would ensure “funding for all centers and institutes at UMass Boston shall be provided at an amount not less than in fiscal year 2018.” It also added strict guidelines for the university in “extraordinary or unforeseen circumstances” to cut funding, requiring a thorough report submitted at least 60 days before any proposed funding reduction or center closure.

This language stems from one of the three Collins amendments, signed onto by 12 co-sponsors, including two other Dorchester lawmakers— Rep. Dan Hunt and Evandro Carvalho.

The initial amendment would have added $2.1 million to protect funding for the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences, the Institute for Asian American Studies, the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture, the Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, the Institute for New England Native American Studies and the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston, which “shall be funded at not less than FY 2018 levels.”
Ultimately the additional funding was not needed, Collins said.

Similarly, UMass Boston requested $3 million to close the budget gap for Fiscal Year 2019, Collins said in an interview with the Reporter. “I was happy to lead on that,” he said, filing an amendment to that effect. In a later interview, he said the money was not included in the final amendment, as there remains uncertainty around the exact amount of debt the university faces.

These initiatives would give the university “an opportunity to transition their model but continue their work, to mix in grant writing to bring in more revenue and not just cutting them off without a chance to shift [funding sources],” Collins said. “We want to see UMass Boston thrive.”

Collins, who is looking to move to the Senate, filling the seat vacated by Linda Dorcena Forry earlier this year, says the initiatives would give the university “an opportunity to transition their model but continue their work, to mix in grant writing to bring in more revenue and not just cutting them off without a chance to shift [funding sources],” Collins said. “We want to see UMass Boston thrive.”

With budget debate under way on Beacon Hill, this is a chance for legislation “shoring up UMass Boston in a period of transition,” Collins said.
This new round of reckoning about UMass Boston’s place in the broader UMass system was sparked when UMass Amherst announced this month that it would acquire Mount Ida, its campus, and its estimated debt of $55 million to $70 million. The pricey agreement rubbed many the wrong way at UMass Boston, which is struggling with an austerity budget stemming from structural debt and deficits.

A final bill, not included in the combined amendment, would “codify” a promise from UMass that “no state resources would be used for Mt. Ida,” Collins noted. It would have amended the about $520 million allocation of operational funds for UMass with language stating “that these funds shall not be used to pay for expenses, including debt service, involved in the acquisition of any private college.”

Collins acknowledged that there is a challenge in the UMass system structure, where each campus has some autonomy to manage its own projects and flexibility with spending campus-specific funds. He said he was assured by the UMass president’s office that no state funds were used for Mt. Ida, which a spokesman confirmed on Tuesday.

With the UMass Boston center protections enshrined for the moment in the House budget bill, “we’ll see what happens in the Senate,” Collins said. In a twist of events, he will likely get to see the bill from both sides, if successful in his bid to become the next senator for the First Suffolk District after the May 1 special election.

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