Opinion

Opinion

UMass Needs More Public Dollars

In the coming days, the Massachusetts Legislature will make an important decision about funding for the University of Massachusetts and, in so doing, will play a significant role in determining what kind of university UMass will be as it enters the next phase in its history.
On a literal level, the Legislature will decide whether UMass will receive the $479 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal year proposed by Gov. Patrick and approved by the House or the $455 million advanced by the Senate. The higher level of funding is important because it would arrest a long-term budget slide, make the state-student funding split more equitable, and provide students with an overdue tuition and fee freeze.
But the commitment we are asking the state to make is actually part of a much larger effort we are shaping to dramatically strengthen UMass and make sure it always will be the kind of public university that Massachusetts, with its innovation and intellectual horsepower, needs.
As we ask the Commonwealth to do more, UMass is also gearing up to do significantly more to provide the financial foundation a university needs to be great. And while it isn’t just about the money, dollars matter when it comes to attracting and retaining top professors, providing aid for students who need and deserve it, and ensuring that our facilities match up with our academic and research ambitions.
With that in mind, UMass this fall will launch its first system-wide capital campaign with the goal of dramatically increasing the private funds flowing into the university. These dollars will sustain a community of excellence — a reinforcing circle of top students, professors, and facilities.
Taken in tandem, a major infusion of public and private funds will give UMass the financial muscle it needs as it completes its first 150 years of service and prepares to make an even more profound contribution to the people of the Commonwealth.
UMass is the third university I have had the honor to lead. As I complete my second year as president, I am struck by one thing above all else — how much our five campuses have done with such limited resources.
Over the past 15 years, while state funding has remained flat, UMass has added 13,000 students (most of whom come from and will remain in Massachusetts), has seen student achievement rise to the point where its flagship campus in Amherst is now a top producer of Fulbright scholars, has won a Nobel Prize, has seen research expenditures reach $600 million a year, has become a national leader in income derived from faculty inventions, and consistently places in the upper reaches of the World University Rankings.
All of which prompts two questions: Shouldn’t we protect the great asset we have developed? And how much more could we do with a little more public and a lot more private support?
While we seek to gather the resources we need to make this a truly transformational moment, I realize that we need to keep front and center a value that is so much a part of our New England heritage — and that is frugality. Respect for a dollar is something I learned growing up in a Maine town where people eked out a living in mills and on fishing boats, and where scrimping and saving was an essential way of life.
Over the past five years, UMass has saved $68 million through efficiency steps, including consolidating administrative functions previously performed on each of the campuses. We expect to save another $123 million over the next five years by reducing energy expenditures, improving our purchasing practices, and streamlining information-technology operations.
Our commitment to transparency mirrors our commitment to efficiency, and, to make it easier to gauge our performance in key areas, we will release an annual performance report giving donors, public officials, and the public at large a better sense of how we are doing and what their dollars are helping to build.
UMass marks its 150th anniversary this year, so it’s a time to celebrate the past — and to build for a brighter and loftier future. With that future in mind, we are asking the state to join with us to create a truly historic moment. We have a chance to place UMass on a course that will allow it to soar — and this is an opportunity we have to seize.

Robert L. Caret is the president of the University of Massachusetts.

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