U Mass Amherst Threatens to Close Labor Center

From Michael D. Yates:

UMass Labor Center

This letter is from Eve Weinbaum, Director of the Labor Center at UMass-Amherst. She writes about the abominable efforts of the university administration to get rid of the Labor Center and its despicable treatment of her. Eve is an outstanding champion of workers, at her own university and across the country. And the Labor Center is outstanding. Please consider writing to the persons she notes at the end of her letter, protesting what the university is doing. I taught in the Union Leadership and Administration Program part of the Center for many years.

Dear friends,
I hope you’re all well and enjoying the very end of summer. I wish I were writing with uplifting news about how well things are going at UMass Amherst, but unfortunately, as some of you have heard, the Labor Center has not had a good year.

As you probably know, the UMass Amherst administration has been cutting the Labor Center’s budget for many years, and on several occasions planned to eliminate the Labor Studies program. As Director, I have spent time building support among other UMass faculty, the labor movement, and legislators, to convince the administration of the importance of the Labor Center. We have had to fight for our survival many times over the past decade.

In July of 2015 I left for a sabbatical to do research in Medellin, Colombia. Immediately after my departure, the dean’s office and the chair of sociology informed my colleagues that they were cutting all funding for Labor Studies programs. They eliminated all funding for graduate students (including teaching and research assistantships) and all funding for part-time faculty who have taught the required curriculum for many years. They also cut the director position from a 12-month to a 9-month job, with a large cut in salary but no cut in responsibilities. They also reduced the course releases that have always been provided in exchange for the administrative work involved in running the Labor Center and its two graduate programs.

Administrators explained that they would only allow the Labor Studies Master’s degree program to continue to exist if it served as a “revenue generator” – to fund other parts of the University outside the Labor Center.

With these changes, the Labor Center can no longer welcome all students, labor leaders, and rank-and-file activists regardless of class, race, nationality, or ability to pay; and we cannot offer externships that provide valuable experience as well as tuition waivers. Instead, we have been told to recruit only students who can afford to pay full tuition, preferably out-of-state tuition, which is currently $31,733 each year for the full-time graduate program (not including room and board), or $63,466 for a two-year degree.
At the same time, we have been asked to shrink the curriculum, to cut electives and to eliminate some required courses — including Collective Bargaining and Contract Administration, Current Issues and Debates in Labor, and possibly Labor Law, among others — all in order to lay off faculty and cut costs.

For the time being, the ULA limited-residency program is safe because it is a net revenue-generator – it pays for itself through tuition and fees. But it is unclear how much longer it can survive without the dedicated staff and faculty support that ULA requires throughout the school year to recruit students and to keep the program running smoothly.

I have been a vocal opponent of the administration’s plans to demolish the Labor Center, and I am proud to have fought off many attacks over the past decade. This past spring, I filed grievances when two of the proposed cuts violated our faculty union contract. As we were discussing possible settlements with the provost’s office, however, I was told that the administration would only settle the grievances if I stepped down as Director immediately, so that they could appoint someone more open to “compromise” (in their words). Before I had time to formulate a response, the chair of the Sociology Department sent out an email to the entire faculty of Labor Studies and Sociology, falsely declaring that I had “resigned” as Director, and announcing that she was accepting nominations for a new Labor Center Director. As you may imagine, this came as a shock to myself and my colleagues. As things currently stand, I have been dismissed as Director as of September 1, and the status of the Labor Center is unclear; as of today we have no director but the Sociology Chair will be appointing one soon, with no input from Labor Studies. I am hoping to remain as director of the ULA program, but the administration has not been willing to make that commitment.

The UMass graduate program in Labor Studies is the premier graduate program in the country for union activists, leaders, staff, and those interested in potential careers in the labor movement to study the history, theory, legal framework and best practices in this field in an academically rigorous manner. Almost one thousand Labor Center alumni have gone on to serve as organizers, representatives, labor academics and educators, industrial relations experts, strategic researchers, arbitrators and elected leaders in universities, unions and community organizations throughout the country. Working with our students and alumni has been my greatest joy and a source of immense satisfaction as Labor Center Director.

I don’t know if it is possible to reverse the plans of UMass administrators, but I know we have to try. If you want to weigh in, please contact these administrators:

Sociology Department Chair Michelle Budig: budig@umass.edu
Dean John Hird: jhird@umass.edu
Provost Katherine Newman: ksnewman@umass.edu
And please send a copy to me: weinbaum@umass.edu

We are asking administrators to reverse the cuts to Labor Studies; to restore our graduate student funding and externships; to maintain our full curriculum; to honor the Labor Studies faculty’s autonomy to make programmatic decisions and to designate a Director; and to commit that the Labor Center is an integral part of the University’s educational mission, not just a profit center to subsidize other programs.

As always, we are so grateful for your support. We wouldn’t fight to continue doing this work if we didn’t know how valuable it has been to our students, our alumni, and our friends in the labor movement all around the world. Thank you for everything you do, and please stay in touch.

In gratitude and solidarity,
Eve

 

One Response

  1. […] Source: U Mass Amherst Threatens to Close Labor Center | Talking Union […]

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