The Cost of Prioritizing the Price of Education Over the Value of Student Success
Authored by: A Student member of The Cypher in the Leadership in Education Department at UMass Boston
In spring 2021, a faculty search committee from the Urban Education, Leadership, and Policy Studies and Educational Administration Programs put forth two highly qualified finalists, both BIPOC, to be hired through UMass Boston’s “opportunity hires” fund. The Provost, and recent Dean of their college, approved only one of the positions citing that funds for “opportunity hires” were depleted. In a chronically underfunded and over-worked department with arguably one of the most diverse faculty and student demographics, hiring .05 teaching faculty to fill the needs of two separate programs is neither anti-racist nor health-promoting. The decision to reject an additional faculty position is the acceptance of chronic disinvestment in the educational experiences of many BIPOC students at UMass Boston, and the overworking-ness of BIPOC faculty and staff.
The problem with the Provost’s decision is that it seems to have been made in a colorblind and ahistorical vacuum. These programs have a composition of 52% BIPOC graduate students and 70% of full-time BIPOC faculty members. They have also been operating at half capacity in terms of faculty. A lack of faculty work-life balance has been cited as a major factor for women and BIPOC faculty in their decision to leave academia. So, to reduce this faculty hire to short term cost concerns demonstrates short-sightedness in efforts to increase faculty diversity and ignores disciplinary gaps in salary. If UMass Boston is to achieve its social justice aspirations, university leaders need to rethink a one-size fits all approach to hiring BIPOC faculty and consider the impact that work-life (im)balance has on the BIPOC community in the Leadership in Education Department.
As students in Higher Education, another program in the Leadership in Education Department, we understand how decades of declining state support and downward enrollment trends have resulted in shrinking budgets, making budgetary decisions challenging for university leaders. Yet, as practitioners and students of critical theories and praxis, we also understand that our lived experiences and navigation of higher education institutions as BIPOC provide us with insight on where important gaps exist within the institution. While the Administration seems to have reduced this decision to budget scarcity, the impact is felt as another unrealized promise from university leaders. Many BIPOC students come to UMass Boston because of its public mission of serving communities of color and advancing social justice education. Time and time again, we are told to wait for equitable services because the budgetary well is dry while witnessing how better resourced departments are able to provide meaningful experiences for their graduate students. We cannot help but to take offense with yet another order to “get in line and wait” while paying the same tuition cost as other students.
The bottom line is that senior university leaders are not without agency — the limitations they have put around faculty diversity hires are only temporarily durable and can be changed when they make equity-minded and race-conscious choices. There must be a shift in mindset and action that prioritizes the value of the educational success and health of BIPOC people over the price tag of our presence at this university. The humanity and health of BIPOC students and faculty members should be worth more than 20 percent of the university’s priorities.