UMass students tell legislators: Cuts 'will reduce the quality of education'

UMass/Amherst brought its message to Beacon Hill April 2.

Five students, a faculty member and a librarian held a press conference at the State House and brought with them over 1,200 hand-written letters from students, urging lawmakers to provide adequate funding for the University.

Participants included Max Page, professor of architecture and history; Naka Ishii, librarian; and students Daniel Greenberg, Ben Marcionek, Seth Nelson, Brian Robert and Grace Sullivan.

The event grew out of a two-day campus teach-in March 11-12, which focused on the effects of budget cuts on UMass/Amherst. The press conference was facilitated by Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and Rep. Ellen Story, both Amherst Democrats, who also invited their legislative colleagues to attend.

In opening comments, Rosenberg was critical of Romney's claim to have uncovered $2 billion in "fraud and waste." Rosenberg ticked off the areas cut in Romney's budget -- health care, social services, education -- and, after each one, asked, "Is that fraud? Is that waste?"

Story reminded the press that "UMass was cut by one-third in the 1980s and, ever since, we've been trying to get back to that level [of funding]."

Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington), who also attended, called Romney's budget "the biggest threat to higher education we've ever seen in the state," and urged the students to send letters to the governor as well as their legislators.

Rep. John Scibak (D-Amherst) said, "UMass has more than paid its dues and contributed to the state's economy."

UMass/Amherst students distributed some of the 1,200 letters from their classmates to legislators attending the April 2 press conference at the State House. Students delivered the rest of the letters to the offices of other legislators.

The greatest attention, however, was focused on the students, three of whom read statements to the press. Some excerpts:

Ben Marcionek: "I come from a middle class family that is proud to have a school that is affordable and feels like a small private school, with quality professors, programs and personal attention. But I feel the proposed budget will reduce the quality of education.... I have an 11-year-old brother who I hope will have the same opportunities that I have had...We need to think about how our decisions now will affect us in the years to come, not just about the money we will save in our budget this year."

Grace Sullivan: "I have come here today to remind the senators and representatives that cutbacks in education and a rise in tuition are guarantees of inaccessibility to a college degree for many of the individuals that they represent....By cutting funding and raising tuition ... we will be fostering a return to an educational elitism which is in direct opposition to the values that founded the University of Massachusetts... By raising tuition we will be continuing to set the bar just out of reach for many middle and low-income families for whom a public education is the only viable option. Investing in public education is an investment in the quality of life in Massachusetts."

Seth Nelson: "While it is a privilege to live in a democracy, a privilege to call the Commonwealth of Massachusetts home, it should not be a privilege to have access to quality, affordable public education. This should exist as an opportunity open to all willing to pursue it."