Editorial: Spring sees positive administrative moves at UMass Amherst

Monday, April 23, 2018

Three major announcements in the past 10 days are positive developments for the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The university will benefit from a new policy governing consensual relationships between faculty and students, $2 million in state financing to encourage more businesses to use advanced research facilities and the acquisition of the 74-acre campus of Mount Ida College in Newton.

After more than two decades of failed attempts, UMass Amherst announced April 4 a policy, effective immediately, banning sexual relationships between faculty and students, including postdoctoral scholars, who they are responsible for supervising in any way, “to avoid conflicts of interest or abuses of authority.” The policy specifically covers any “faculty member who has any responsibility for supervision, evaluation, grading, advising, employment, or other instructional or supervisory activity related to a student or post-doc.”

Violations should be reported to the faculty member’s supervisor, “who will deal with the matter in accordance with university policy and relevant collective bargaining agreements,” according to a statement issued by John J. McCarthy, interim provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at UMass, and Eve Weinbaum, president of the Massachusetts Society of Professors, the union representing faculty and librarians.

McCarthy had little to say about why UMass chose to adopt the policy now, though he acknowledged “an awareness that other institutions have adopted policies like this.”

However, Weinbaum said it is a direct result of the advocacy done by the student group, Graduate Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Its members have made recommendations as part of a task force established by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to address sexual violence on campus.

Raquel Bryant, co-chairwoman of the advocacy group, said it has been successful in sparking conversations that led to the new policy. “People are really talking, they’re sharing experiences and minds are changing,” Bryant said. “I’ve had people tell me it just feels different on campus.”

That’s a major step forward. We trust that UMass administrators will take seriously their responsibility for enforcing the policy, including informing students who file complaints about any ensuing action.

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House Speaker Robert DeLeo was a welcome visitor on campus April 6 when he announced the state will pay $2 million to reduce the expense for small- and medium-sized business to use the sophisticated technology available at the UMass Amherst Institute for Advanced Life Sciences.

The Innovation Voucher Program will allow businesses with 10 or fewer employees to use the laboratories and other facilities at 25 percent of the usual cost, while those with 50 or less workers will get a 50 percent discount. “It will support local companies,” DeLeo said.

Among them is Peerless Precision of Westfield, which will deliver additive manufacturing services to its largest customer over the next five years. Additive manufacturing is the technology that assembles layers of materials to build three-dimensional objects.

Kristin Carlson, president of Peerless Precision, said, “This voucher program will be vital to my company” in allowing access to the UMass Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication lab with its high-end 3-D printers.

We encourage many valley businesses to take advantage of this partnership with the university. Bringing these employers to campus also should widen the pipeline of job opportunities for UMass students in the life sciences fields.

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The board of trustees April 6 approved the plan by UMass Amherst to acquire the Mount Ida property and 24 buildings for a satellite campus about 10 minutes from Boston. Approval is still needed by the state Board of Higher Education.

The Mount Ida campus will not enroll students directly. It will be an extension of the campus in Amherst, with an emphasis on experiential learning that prepares students to work for tech companies and in research laboratories. Programs in Newton will include health care, business, computer science and other STEM specialties.

Most students will spend three years in Amherst before going to the Mount Ida campus, which they may also use as a base for an internship with a tech company or research laboratory.

This is a sensible expansion of opportunities for students at the UMass flagship campus. At the same time, we urge the Amherst campus to join with others in the UMass system to ensure a smooth transition for Mount Ida students who choose to attend the state university after their college closes this spring.