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MA Public Higher-Education Unions Want Furloughed Workers Back

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Nationally, college enrollments fell 2.5% this fall, twice the 2019 figure. That's roughly 400,000 fewer students. (ijeab/Adobe Stock)
Nationally, college enrollments fell 2.5% this fall, twice the 2019 figure. That's roughly 400,000 fewer students. (ijeab/Adobe Stock)
December 22, 2020

BOSTON -- Labor leaders and employees of Massachusetts public colleges and universities say their institutions need to bring back furloughed workers and stop cutting services, especially since the Legislature is set to give higher education level funding in 2021.

Max Page, vice president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and a professor at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst, said an economic crisis is a critical time to ensure access to high-quality public colleges and universities.

Not only is it good for faculty and students themselves but also for economic recovery, he asserted, adding at UMass, 1,500 or more staff members have been furloughed.

"That's exactly the opposite thing we want to do," Page argued. "And we really believe that the campuses and the system should be using emergency crisis reserves to keep people employed at this moment."

He noted enrollment numbers have dropped significantly at the state's community colleges, not because students don't want an education, but because they can't pay for it or have other obligations during the crisis.

Tiffany Chenault, Salem chapter president of the Massachusetts State College Association and a professor at Salem State University, said cuts at her institution have increased the workload for those still there. For example, her class sizes grew from 25 students before the pandemic to 30-33 now.

"There's mental-health issues, issues around poverty; there's issues around immigration," Chenault explained. "I mean, there's so many other things that students need that if you cut faculty, if you cut support services, that they'll be at a disadvantage."

Chenault said diversity in higher education is crucial, especially with the pandemic exacerbating existing inequalities. And though the student body of Salem State is diverse, she said students of color see few senior faculty members who look like them.

"Our junior faculty, that's where a lot of racial diversity is," Chenault pointed out. "So if you're going to cut faculty, those will be the faculty who will be the first to go because they're untenured."

She stressed she appreciates those mobilizing to protest these cuts, and said keeping faculty in their jobs will help maintain the high-quality educations needed at this time.

Disclosure: Massachusetts Teachers Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Children's Issues, Civic Engagement, and Education. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - MA