The boards and presidents of Mount Ida College and the University of Massachusetts came under scathing criticism Tuesday.
Mount Ida students and their parents, as well as professors, spoke at a meeting of the Academic Affairs Committee of the state Board of Higher Education.
They were there to discuss the surprise announcement that Mount Ida is closing at the end of the academic year.
Before announcing that UMass Amherst was taking over the Newton campus of Mount Ida, the UMass Board of Trustees never held a single public meeting on the subject.
On Tuesday, Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the Board of Higher Education, took them to task for that lack of transparency.
“I think the role you have as a board member is very serious,” Gabrieli said.
“In a public entity, it means, for example, being willing to have an open meeting. Where this is the board that has had the least to do with this decision, and yet it’s the first chance that people have had to speak out publicly.
I think that’s part of your job.”
No UMass board members were present.
A statement from the board says there was no need for a public hearing to authorize a property deal.
The Board of Higher Education has no jurisdiction over UMass’ acquisition of the Mount Ida campus.
It does have a say how UMass Amherst uses the property. UMass Amherst has said it wants to use the campus to house students with internships in the Boston area and to host receptions for employers in the area.
Mount Ida has some 1,500 students. Many are seniors and will graduate next month, but 850 freshmen, sophomores and juniors will not.
Mount Ida had arranged for their transfer to UMass Dartmouth, but Tuesday, the Department of Higher Education announced that Mount Ida will have to offer a choice of transfer options.
For Some, Impending Closure Creates Difficulties
One mother, Laurel Collins, of Woburn, gave a moving description of Mount Ida students and their limited options as she criticized UMass President Marty Meehan and Mount Ida President Barry Brown.
“Our students are not, as Marty Meehan says, free agents valued by colleges everywhere,” Collins said. “They are not, per Barry Brown, the most popular students.
They are the most pitied students. They are real people with families, many middle-class, many students of color, many with disabilities, and many first-generation college students.
Another tearful mother testified that since the college announced its surprise closure earlier this month, it has gone back on its word several times. Becky Bridges’s daughter is finishing her sophomore year at Mount Ida.
“Every day of being notified of the soon-to-be-closure, there’s been a new plan which then falls through,” Bridges said. “I can’t tell you how many times she’s called in tears as another promise is broken.
Bridges said that although UMass Dartmouth has accepted the students in the veterinary technician program, students have been told that the program will be taught at Mount Ida, but there will be no student housing, and many courses will have to be taken online or at community colleges.
“So what kind of college experience is this?” Bridges asked.
“Does this sound like Mount Ida and UMass has our students‘ best interests at heart? This is not what my child signed up for. Someone ne to be held accountable and do what’s right for these students.
Mount Ida declined to respond to specific accusations from board members, parents, students and faculty. Instead, it offered this statement
We recognize how emotionally trying this transition is for students and families alike.
We are working as diligently and quickly as possible to help place students in programs that allow them to continue their studies in their desired major.
A Surprise To All?
Tuesday’s testimony brought out just how much the closure of Mount Ida came as a surprise.
A professor said he and colleagues were offered signed contracts for next year only last month. Several parents said the college had just confirmed generous scholarships for their children for next year.
One mother, Lissa McClain, said Mount Ida’s president blamed the scholarships for the demise of the college in a closed-circuit conference the day after Mount Ida announced it was closing.
“So we have Barry Brown telling us in meetings that this is the reason Mount Ida failed, offering scholarships in merit that they don’t have funding for,” McClain said.
“If this is the case, why are they being offered? Why are you preying on our children, luring them to come to Mount Ida with this nonexistent money?”
UMass says it is actively engaged in finding solutions for Mount Ida students.
UMass Dartmouth has promised Mount Ida students that they would not pay more than $13,600 a year in tuition.
But there are other costs, and one parent testified Tuesday that because of the generous scholarships his son received at Mount Ida, and because he’ll no longer be able to take The Ride to get there, it will cost $14,000 a year more for his son to go to UMass Dartmouth.