Sunday, May 29, 2011
Negotiating a minefield
It's safe to say the working relationship between UMass/Amherst and the town of Amherst, colloquially known as town/gown, has never been better.
Perhaps best reflected in the workings of the Campus and Community Coalition--a large committee of concerned public officials who live and work in the shadow of UMass, or the partnership forged recently to bring about the dream of a new Gateway Corridor to revitalize the physical link between UMass and downtown Amherst.
And these important initiatives--especially the Gateway Project--have flourished under the reign of Robert Holub, an academic (German literature no less) who seems to understand entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the significant increase in out-of-state enrollments that brings in higher profit margins per head to the flagship trying to negotiate turbulent economic waters.
Naturally I first welcomed him to town by pointing out his children attend the Amherst public schools while he lives in a tax exempt home on campus. One of my readers responded that it was a good thing: unlike some highly paid administrators in the Amherst School system, Chancellor Holub demonstrates confidence in our all-important institution by sending us his most prized treasure.
Last Sunday--seemingly out of nowhere--The Boston Globe detonated a major bombshell all but declaring Chancellor Holub a lame duck. Why? Spending $60,000 in consulting fees for an ill fated attempt to establish a medical school in Springfield, less than stellar ratings from an anonymous survey of classroom professors and an alleged cavalier attitude about affirmative action when it comes to attracting black students.
Overall, however, UMass/Amherst has a higher percentage of minority students under Holub's tenure--but unfortunately for him they are of the wrong target demographic; and when the Governor is black, I guess it's not hard to figure out what quota needs to command attention.
Last year, Amherst's interim (now permanent) Superintendent Maria Geryk--without telling the Regional School Committee--signed a $96,000 consulting contract with UMass School of Education for services some would consider mutually beneficial and therefor should have been free...how to better teach high school students.
So I'm trying to figure out what's the big deal with Mr. Holub--in command of a overall budget seven times higher than the Amherst Regional High School--spending a lousy $60,000 to perform due diligence on the possibility of establishing a medical school in Springfield?
Congressman Ritchie Neal seemed very supportive--and since he was instrumental in the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School acquiring a $1.5 million federal grant, safe bet he could have done the same for UMass.
UMass President Jack Wilson fought hard to found a law school at UMass/Dartmouth and probably spent a fair amount in consulting fees leading up to it. And if I had to choose what the state could use more of--lawyers or doctors--it would be an easy call.
And the fact that employees under Holub as measured by Mass Society of Professors don't particularly like him strikes me as a good thing. If employees love their boss, chances are the boss is not pushing them very hard to perform.
Interestingly, only 220 union members bothered to submit the survey on Holub's evaluation but a week later over 700 weighed in on the "Exceptional Merit Proposal". Kind of like Amherst's last local election that garnered under a 10% turnout vs. an Override election attracting 30%. Pocketbook issues seem to get everyone's attention.
UMass/Amherst has suffered budget cut after budget cut, yet it's still ranked in the top 20 universites in the world. And last I looked the world is a pretty BIG place.
The endowment is at an all time high indicating strong approval from alumni, the incoming class is the largest in history with the highest average SATs and GPAs so their retention rate will also be stellar as well (and safe to bet none of them will win my "Party House of the Weekend" award).
This is not the time for a change in command. As President Lincoln once said, "best not to swap horses while crossing the river."