Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Patrick to "Take Over Review" of UMASS System

Governor Deval Patrick's educational task force will "take over the review" of the UMASS system, but recognizes President Jack Wilson and the Board of Trustees as the ultimate authority in making personnel changes.

Patrick's spokesman Kyle Sullivan said the Readiness Project is the "appropriate forum" for a review. "There is no need to duplicate efforts."He added, "nothing that we announce today or that we review over the next few months will take away from the authority of the president to make the personnel changes that he is empowered to make."

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, said taking control of the review is "a big step forward." He said he and other Lombardi supporters lobbied Patrick to step in.

Ryan's Take? Great news.

A number of groups, people and organizations were looking for Governor Patrick to step into the UMASS debate, but it seemed as if he wanted to focus on his current battles - like passing the Municipal Partnership Act - rather than step his feet into even more boiling water. By taking over the review process, but seeding ultimate authority to President Wilson on "personnel," Patrick is jumping in with two feet on the ground - sure, he's getting wet a little, but the water's luke warm. Come on in! Now that the UMASS media circus is over, this is a way to get involved that isn't stepping on anyone's feet. Furthermore, for the people who were afraid Wilson was going to bring wrack and ruin to the system, they can set their minds to peace. Wilson won't subvert this entire process and ignore the committee's principal decisions, especially given the fact that doing so could bring a more direct response from the Governor.

Ultimately, by having Patrick's committee reexamine Wilson's plans and examine the UMASS system itself, it will bring more legitimacy to the process. The big criticism against Wilson's announcements were the tactics involved in coming up with the decision - the planning was all behind closed doors, no one knew anything that was going on and a lot of big decisions were made without any real input. Now, Patrick's committee is going to have until March to investigate all aspects of the UMASS system - as a part of this state's entire public education system. Just as with any Patrick committee, I'm sure there will be lots of chance to gather input from a wide variety of sources involved.

Many of Wilson's goals are ideal: of course, UMASS should be streamlined. Of course, the system should be made more efficient. However, many of his proposals - such as making the President of the entire system also be the Chancellor of UMASS Amherst - don't seem to accomplish that. The President of the system and Chancellor of UMASS look like two heavy loads - loads that shouldn't go in the same wash. Furthermore, while each campus at UMASS should act as a part of the greater system, all of them also have their own character and should not be subservient to Amherst.

The Amherst campus is called the "flagship" by many, but that should have more to do with its actual size than academics. Indeed, many of the UMASS Campuses have programs that stand out beyond Amherst's versions of them - such as Dartmouth's Engineering and Nursing degrees. Changes to the system shouldn't make any of the campuses feel threatened in that regard. None of the campuses should be satellites to UMASS Amherst.

It's important that reform be done in a way that none of the state's Universities feel threatened or targeted. It's important that a vast majority of the faculty be behind the reforms, which means they'll need to be given the chance to weigh in. Students and alumni, too, should have the opportunity to make recommendations. It's amazing what students and alumni get that administrations on campuses don't. Governor Patrick's intervention here can only help calm the storm, especially at the Amherst campus, as well as give UMASS more time to create new and legitimate reforms that everyone, from students and faculty to President Wilson, can get behind.

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