Legislature allots $20m for UMass Boston nursing center

The Legislature recently authorized spending $20 million for a nursing innovation center on the UMass Boston campus that will provide students and practitioners with state-of-the art simulation labs, and dedicated space for clinical training and research work. The bond bill also authorized the funding of capital grants aimed at promoting diversity in the life sciences, investments in minority-owned businesses, and assistance to school districts with significant minority populations.

“This bond authorization reaffirms our commitment to diversity and excellence in the life science industry in Massachusetts and at UMass Boston,” wrote Sen. Nick Collins, who represents parts of South Boston and Dorchester in the Senate’s 1st Suffolk district, on his website. “I am proud that we were able to craft a bill that will create economic opportunity across the state, promote diversity in this growing professional field, and give students access to cutting edge equipment, innovative research opportunities, and rewarding careers.”

UMass Boston’s nursing program has garnered a reputation as one of the region’s best and was named as one of the nation’s top 100 nursing schools in this year’s US News & World Report’s rankings. However, funding issues have cast a shadow on the future of the program in recent years as the building currently housing the program had been scheduled for demolition with no planned replacement site.

A separate round of funding in this year’s budget set aside financial safeguards for some of UMB’s endangered centers and institutes. At a community meeting in April, UMB students and faculty expressed concerns about the status of several campus institutes that have been weakened over the years by a stream of budget cuts, among them, the William Monroe Trotter Institute, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, and other research institutes for women, minorities, and veterans.

UMB Faculty Staff Union president Marlene Kim said she was pleased to hear that funding had been set for the nursing school, which, she said, is just one of the institutions on campus in desperate need of assistance. “The nursing school certainly needs money; they don’t even have adequate offices,” she said. “Right now, they’re in cubicles.”

But Kim also expressed cynicism about the lack of attention UMass Boston continues to receive despite the new round of funding. “If the university does that, they’ll have to cut something else,” she said, adding that the nursing center funding amounts to treating a large wound with a small band-aid.

“I’m not sure morale has changed since April,” she said. “I think people are still angry and feeling ignored...It’s like we’re suffering pneumonia and need penicillin, and instead we’re told, ‘Why don’t you just rest and take plenty of fluids and take care of yourself?’”

She added, “We need the interim chancellor and [UMass President Martin] Meehan and legislators to look at our needs and help us fund these because otherwise it gets taken out of the students’ pockets.”

As the new academic year gets under way at UMass Boston, students and faculty will be looking to see what interim chancellor Katherine Newman, who has acknowledged the need to establish a “systematic and publicly reviewed and open and iterative budget planning process,” has in mind.