Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
I was in my car a lot yesterday, so of course I was listening to WBUR. And they had an excellent piece about colleges which are taking a different path from most of the nation’s private and public universities…cutting back on sports, frills, and unnecessary services and getting back to spending their budget on professors and keeping their costs as low as possible for students so they don’t graduate with crushing debt.
It really hit home, because the trend of development at UMass Lowell for last 5-10 years have been right up there with the “conventional wisdom.” Renovate sports arenas, move your teams to Division 1, and chase sports prestige; build, or buy and renovate, grand new buildings (some academic, some not)…all to attract students with shiny amenities that may not really actually help them learn, or serve the goal of education. And of course, none of that is free, so the “fees” at UMass have gone up exponentially. Currently, in-state tuition, fees, room and board and meal plan all together costs $23,340. If you manage to graduate in four years (something else that is an issue), that’s almost $100,000 for a state university.
You can listen to the show or read the whole transcript - it was a worthy discussion on Morning Edition with the presidents of two different colleges which are heading in a very different direction. But here are some highlights worth mentioning:
Theobald: We eliminated five varsity sports. We are trying to reallocate our funds toward our student body, what goes on in the classroom, what goes on in the lab, so we scaled back by five sports. But it was incredibly difficult.
O’Shea: We don’t have any varsity sports. We are a very lean organization. We invest in faculty. It’s about a 10:1 student-faculty ratio. … Only 40 percent graduate with debt, and of those who have debt, the average debt is a little under $18,000. We invest in faculty instead of sports and even some student services.
Theobald: You’ve got to set priorities. There is an arms race for spending. And so a university needs to know who they are, who their students are and what their mission is. We need to focus on getting them in, getting them a course of study, making sure courses are available when they need them and getting them out in four years. That’s the priority for our students.
O’Shea: I think what is going to stop being a major driver is student expectation. I think the worry about cost is outstripping the desire for … huge facilities and things like that.
I recommend listening to the whole thing though, as they have a lot to say about what is happening to our higher education both public and private.
This is not to single out UMass Lowell or question all of its many buildouts and changes. A lot of new businesses and inventions and ideas are going to be incubated from what the University is doing here, and I think in many cases UML is keeping an eye on costs and developing in such a way as to offset some of them. (For instance, there are many acts coming to the Tsongas which are probably big money makers.)
However, as a Commonwealth, and as a nation, we need to stop and take a look at the direction our higher ed is going, because like the housing bubble, the student debt bubble could help take down an entire economy. A student who graduates with $30-100K in debt from a public university, or a student who drops out or does bother to attend college, is going to have a delayed start to their adult life; and miss out on reaching their full potential which, in turn, suppresses their whole lifelong economic contribution to society.
Some states are also ahead of us on this issue; discussing free higher education at state colleges and universities. Imagine what that will do for the economy of those states? But here in Massachusetts, the public university prices just keep going up and up. For all the wrong reasons.
What is going on in Dracut?
… a contract between Mr Bucuzzo and Dracut failed because of restrictions in the charter.
The current charter was approved in 1985, a copy of which you can find in the downloads section on the right of this page. (Click Here - Jack)
There are a number of provisions that could be of concern to an incoming Manager.
First, the charter does not allow for a time limit on a contract, only for a hiring agreement. It was the intent at the time, as explained in the introduction, that he or she “serve at the will of the Board of Selectmen, and may be dismissed by a simple majority of that Board.”
In a community such as Dracut, where politics and blame often overcome discourse, I could see an incoming manager being concerned about this section. Just witness the recent attacks against Mr Piendak.
Hmmm.. Protection from petty, kneejerk, pandering politics? In this regard, how different is Lowell from Dracut? Sometimes, even when everything is chill between the ‘electeds’ and the ‘appointeds,’ there can be simple ‘misunderstandings.’ Enter the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association (MMMA):
The Massachusetts Municipal Management Association (MMMA) is a professional association dedicated to serving appointed chief and assistant municipal managers and administrators in Massachusetts cities and towns. The MMMA was established in the mid-1970s, exists under its parent organization, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and presently has about 250 members.
Wait, just one cotton pickin’ minute! I’ve been listenin’ to Councilor Ed Kennedy at the last several forums. He says the whole ‘professional City Manager’ thing is recent history. “the mid-1970s?” How could that be?! Maybe, he just means here in Lowell. I could see that. And, this,”… presently has about 250 members. ..?” No freeking way! Ed Kennedy said that most of the municipalities in the Commonwealth don’t get into all this ‘professional’ mumbo jumbo. Did he say that, or something like that? I get confused when C.Kennedy doesn’t simply Ditto whatever C.Elliott blurts.
Dan Rourke doesn’t say much, but when he does …
As for the talk about being anti-administration, Rourke said: “Where does that come from anyway?”
He then answered his own question: it’s because he opposes contracts fo city managers.
“Hey, I’ve only met Bernie Lynch one or two times, but I think he is doing a good job on the finances, and that is one of the most important things a city manager does. Just because I am anti-contract doesn’t mean I am anti-manager. I have no preconceived notions. I’m hoping I have a chance to work with him.”
I was wondering where John Leahy got his talking points from.
Whatever brain trust is stuffing Leahy and Rourke (Tipa is that you?!) better start burning the midnight oil. Not only do these folks vote for municipal Union contracts like they are going out of style, they won’t say SHIT when we are talking about giving contracts to School Dept higher ups? Or, the Top Cop? Will they argue to put the Superintendent of Police back in the Civil Service? Meaning, protected under the Union book.
How is it, with a straight face, a guy like Rourke can say he thinks a City Manager should be an ‘at will’ employee, when City Councilors cannot be recalled? Won’t @dannyballgame be given a 2 year contract, via election? How’s that?
We are stuck with a City Councillor for 2 years; no if, ands or buts. However, giving a City Manager a two year contract, that can be revoked on any Tuesday night; is somehow taboo?
After last Tuesday’s debacle at the Safety Subcommittee Meeting, I’ve heard a variety of responses to C.Elliott’s demeanor. Which, in my opinion, was nothing less than blatant contempt for the ‘People’s Work.’ Those that safeguard Elliott, trying to buffer his insolence for his duty to act as a steward for our City, should be scolded, publicly.
I will not be a party to it. Hence, this diary is intended to simply call a spade a spade:
C.Elliott is in favor of changing Lowell’s Charter, the Charter he took an oath to uphold in his tenure, from Plan E (Appointed City Manager) to Plan A (Strong Mayor.) That isn’t a problem, so much. Elliott is entitled to his opinion, which he states freely and candidly when he runs for election. Good on him, on that limited note.
What Elliott is NOT at liberty to do, is subvert our governance, our routine, community business, by acting in a buffoonish, Fred Doyle-esque manner! He is NOT entitled to the opportunity to degrade the public trust in our means of governing.
We do not need what Sun parroting candidates like to term “rubber stamps.” We don’t need ‘pro-Lynch stamps.’ Nor, do we need ‘anti-Lynch stamps.’ C.Elliott is an embarrassing heap of insurrection. Jilted by his peers, by not being elected Mayor. Thus, bitter and poisonous to what happens in the sanctum of democracy that we call the Council Chambers.
On November 5th, fellow Lowellians, let’s “PURGE THE PUNK!”
Update: h/t djglowell Important & pertinent stuff over on WCAP.
This morning we had on both City Manager Bernie Lynch and Council Member Rodney Elliot to discuss the issue of safety.
Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that “I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.”
I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.
Not long ago, I was sent on an errand to pick up some stuff at the Bridge St. DeMoula’s. Being on the Dracut line, it goes without saying, the place is teeming with Dracuteers. Standing in the express line, I overheard two older gentlemen discussing the upcoming vote on school funding. Their demeanor and body language was controlled, if not cordial. But, at one point, the man espousing certain fiscal ‘truths’ pulled back from getting heated, stating, “I don’t want to ‘get into it, here.”
In Lowell, the municipal election is pending. We need to “get into it.”
It is confirmed by several sources, John MacDonald has formed his own company. Then, there is this:
(I deleted out his address and added the red arrow to the screen grab)
I’m at a loss. What to think?!
Is JMac’s sugar daddy, Sal Lupoli gonna run for Governor? LG? Something? Or, is JMac looking to cash campaign checks from a Lupoli ally?
Maybe, he wants to shill for slots in Tewksbury?
Make sure you watch City Life, tomorrow, at 6 am: Here or on the boob tube. Or, wait until the amateur marketeer gets the Blog of Record on message, then read it in dead tree form. Lastly, you can listen to Sam Poulten’s pride and joy, The JMac & The Bear Show. I think this hour long infomercial for “shady Lowell” runs Fridays at 10am.
Heads up, folks!
Patrick Murphy shared a statement on RichardHowe.com which everyone ought to read. I’ll pull a few quotes, but go read the whole thing (I’ve bolded some things I really liked):
So much energy is wasted each week on what is least important to the people we represent. I am not without fault. I am responsible for my own words. At a kickoff event for Van Pech the other week, I spoke of Van’s vote on the Zoning Board to allow a methadone clinic its special permit as the “lone vote that sought to do the right thing.” While I do believe that he reached the right conclusion—a belief that even the Sun’s May 28th editorial acknowledges—it should not be inferred that all the votes in opposition had knowingly done the wrong thing. I do not and did not think that the Zoning Board had acted improperly as a whole, but when one member receives a substantial campaign contribution ($250) from an opponent of the special permit only days before he is to rule on the matter, that gives the appearance of a conflict.
Exactly four years ago tomorrow, Jim Campanini wrote to my brother, “The city is very divided politically—like it has been for awhile—and I don’t see any change in the near future. Maybe Patrick can reverse a bad trend: lack of leadership. But I don’t see it happening without Patrick raising money and gaining name recognition throughout the city. Older voters don’t read the Internet.” In other words, you need to buy ink in the paper to win.
The Sun wants to swing away at “hypocrisy” and campaign finance “issues” which really amount to a clerical error not listing that the few donations made to my campaigns were, as the Sun has often reported during the campaigns, made by myself. It is a situation rarely seen by the Office of Campaign and Political Finance, which quickly considered the issue resolved with a few clicks on the computer. But here again is another distraction from the real and larger question of money in politics: Why should individuals with business before the city, be allowed to contribute to candidates and incumbents who might be in a position to influence decisions affecting their business? Does it not cease to be “political speech” when an individual spreads thousands of dollars around to more candidates than could possibly win? Does that not make it even slightly less likely that the public interest will win out over private interests? These are the questions that my proposed “Pay-to-Play” Ordinance sought to answer, that many of my colleagues thought unnecessary, that the newspaper—the original “pay-to-play” organization—did not want answered.
A critical editorial (is there any other kind?) or perhaps a chat some time ago actually warned about the paper being able to “buy ink by the barrel.” The underlying suggestion, I assume, is that there is nothing intrinsically truthful about the ink in the paper; that ink is but a commodity to be bought and traded by the barrel, in lieu of the truth if need be; that it matters not what is being written, but how much you can afford to pay for people to read it.
The whole thing leads in gently with an anecdote about Hale’s Brook and ends with hope for the future. The tone of it is firm and intelligent, a bit conciliatory, and full of his direct and honest perspective. The thing you cannot ever accuse Patrick Murphy of is not being direct and honest. The “barrels of ink” notwithstanding.
This November, when the sharpie in my hand hits the municipal ballot, it will first touch at Bill Martin’s name.
h/t to Mimi, who snagged this video from the last time ’shady Lowell’ came for Mayor Murphy.
Please do not respond to the negativity & histrionics that are puking forth, as the City election approaches, with contempt for politics or apathy. The strategery of ’shady Lowell’ is to turn you off and drive you away from the polling booth.
You know, as well as I, what we can do when we stand up to the insidious fog that hovers in the crevices of Lowell.
PS. The Blog of Record is separating the wheat from the chaff for you. I figure they’re explaining to “shady Lowell” who they should snub. (The “shadies” are slow on the uptake, if it doesn’t reek of under the table hack money.)
A lot, however, could come out in the wash that is November’s election. If there is little or no change on the City Council, a new contract could be hard to get. But if candidates like Stacie Hargis, James Milinazzo, Derek Mitchell and William Samaras get on, the prospects of Lynch getting a new deal are significantly higher.
Some advanced warning – this might get a little long winded, but that’s pretty much my style for better or for worse. This is probably the reason I don’t post more often than I do - this took about an hour write not counting preceding discussions with various people before putting my thoughts together. The post is long because the issue I want to bring up is involves several related points that intersect – neighborhood groups, the nature of representation, voting, the enfranchisement of constituency groups, and a particular vulnerability in our current system of neighborhood groups. If you’re up for it read on, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Oh boy, the paper blog is all up in arms in yet another rhetorical controversy from a Left in Lowell writer. Sound the alarms! Call up the National Guard! Time for another blogger ethics panel! (Haven’t had the opportunity to pull that one out in quite some time.)
OK, so I’ve been marginally paying attention to the stupidity going on right now. I say marginally, because I don’t read the Sun’s dumb blog (or the Sun in general). It doesn’t offer anything much of value to me. It’s full of innuendo pulled out of its authors’ collective butts, and legions of bad writing (and terrible editing). Meh.
But I have to weigh in on this whole “Taliban” comment from Jack, which apparently is like calling for the head of an oversensitive Superintendent on a platter! (Jack’s commentary, by the way, wasn’t something he wrote in a post, just in a comment, which is also where a certain Superintendent felt “threatened.” Funny that.) Because in both cases, the brahmin of Lowell are focusing on the rhetoric instead of the content of the complaint in question. And they are doing it deliberately…in the Sun’s case, because they like controversy and hate LiL and they have an agenda that often requires serious breaches of journalistic integrity, and in the neighborhood group leader(s)’ case, because they refuse to hold a mirror up to their own behavior, and instead want to take it personally (when it’s more a commentary on overall policy, and some actions and positions that they’ve taken). (more…)
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