Last spring, the University of Massachusetts Boston proposed an increase in its daily parking fees for July 2013 from $6 per day to $8, which will then increase to $10 a day in the summer of 2014. At a 100 percent commuter campus, these rates are already excessive for students who pay to go to class and employees who must pay to work at their jobs.
While negotiating the fee with campus unions in a collective bargaining process, the university made the unilateral decision this month to impose this fee increase on all non-unionized members of the UMass Boston community, specifically the largest non-union group on campus, the students. With no voice in the decision-making process, students are increasingly forced to foot the bill for UMass Boston’s expansion plans, including a 25-year Master Plan that seeks to transform our waterfront campus into a world-class research institution on par with Tufts University and Boston University. The problem is, UMass Boston isn’t Tufts or BU; it’s Boston’s only public university, and it largely serves Boston’s traditionally underserved communities: first-generation college students, low-income students, and non-traditional students looking to come back to school to finish their degrees.
The Boston Globe recently reported last week that the “elected student trustees from the University of Massachusetts system universities called on the Senate to approve a $478 million funding proposal from Governor Deval Patrick.” The elected trustees are looking for the Senate to make good on University of Massachusetts President Robert L. Caret’s promise to freeze fees for the coming academic year if the state will match 50 percent of UMass’ academic costs. This funding is desperately needed not only to keep UMass afloat, but to keep working-class UMass students from sinking deeper into debt.
After more than two decades of successive fee increases, UMass has already set a dangerous precedent for its working-class, middle-income, and low-income students. The public university is increasingly looking like a private one, with creeping costs to match. And fee increases don’t just come through tuition and education fees, but also through ancillary campus charges, like parking, that continue to eat away at the wallets of students and low-paid staff.
In a recent conversation with Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance, Ellen O’Connor, the students, faculty, and staff of the coalition Stand Together, Oppose Parking Fee Increases (STOP) raised their concerns about affordability and access to UMass Boston during a parking fee protest. One student was concerned that the university administration doesn’t care about those attending UMass Boston, which prompted Vice Chancellor O’Connor to react with shock, exclaiming, “I can’t believe you think we don’t care about students!”
Yet by subverting the union negotiating process and sneaking another fee onto the backs of students as they head out for the summer holiday, the administration of UMass Boston is proving that they really don’t care about students and are more concerned with their Master Plan aspirations.
As the trustees noted in their letter to the Massachusetts Senate, “a tuition and fee freeze would represent real progress and send a national message of support for public universities, a skilled future workforce, and a strong economy.” We support that message and would like to add to it: UMass Boston should freeze parking fees and all other campus fees as well.
For the good of the Commonwealth, keep UMass Boston affordable.
Email Mitch Manning.