Dorm notion draws heat at UMass session

Neighborhood activists strongly opposed to the construction of dormitories at UMass-Boston spoke out publicly in front of university administrators on Tuesday evening as the school moves slowly toward formulating the master plan that will dictate its structural and agenda progress for years to come.

"I'll meet you on middle ground when you can prove to me that dorms would have no impact on [Dorchester] cops or city services," said Tom Gannon, president of the Fields Corner Civic Association.

Tuesday's community meeting was the most recent gathering to discuss interim progress on the strategic plan that will eventually be used to inform the master plan for the physical campus and the school's future.

Drew O'Brien, UMass-Boston's vice chancellor, explained that several months before the strategic planning process is slated to end and the master planning process begin, school leaders have identified four major goals: increasing the school's enrollment; considering the construction of student housing; construction of a new academic building; and increasing the faculty population while decreasing their course loads.

All four goals are tied into a larger desire to improve the school's prestige, and will be dictated by the availability of one thing: money. To decrease the average faculty course load to two per semester means hiring more professors. Faculty salaries are funded by tuition, which leads to a goal of increasing enrollment from around 12,000 students to 15,000 students by 2010. Another source of funding, O'Brien said, would be the fees students would pay to board in "living learning communities," or dormitories.

While the primary concern of neighbors was clearly the construction of dorms and the presence of more students in the neighborhood, several made an issue of the school's changing identity.

"I want to go back to the 1970s, to the original negotiation to the community and civic groups, when we were told this was to be a commuter school of 15,000 students. Why does that mission statement need to change?" asked Gannon.

O'Brian said that the need to attract students and faculty to the school in an increasingly competitive environment was driving the change.

"Not every student can afford to pay for a private college education, certainly very few working-class students can," said O'Brien. "Why shouldn't they have a public alternative, with state of the art facilities?" "

But some residents, like Paul Nutting, a Savin Hill resident and UMass-Boston alumnus, said he didn't think joining the competitive fray was necessary.

"I don't see that as the mission of a public university, to be competitive¬Ö it doesn't sound right to me," he said.

O'Brien also asked attendees to consider forming a citizen's advisory group, perhaps similar to the Impact Advisory Groups used by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, to serve as community liaison to the master planning process.

Many, including City Council President Maureen Feeney, balked at the idea of an IAG, which she called an "I Am God" committee, because she said they leave room for excluded community members to protest a project.

"I don't want people to be able to say they weren't a part of the process," she said.

Administrators and neighbors will meet again at a community meeting on June 6.



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