Left In Lowell

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May 2, 2014

UML: Wrong Priorities?

by at 10:55 am.

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.

November 21, 2013

Going Nuclear

by at 12:10 pm.

Right now, after a few more tries at getting a judicial nominee through and being filibustered, Senator Reid is finally done with the obstructionism and is going nuclear on the filibuster for judicial nominees.

The current vacancy crisis of our judiciary is often unremarked by the media, but it has very big consequences for the justice system we all live under. Republicans want to claim Obama is too slow to nominate, but with them using the filibuster to block so many nominees - qualified, good nominations, we’re not talking about political hacks, and even the Republicans can’t always find a good objection other than it being something Obama initiated - our judicial system has been hampered for years.

The concept of “going nuclear” on the filibuster was, of course, invented by Republicans over the few filibusters of some very shady Bush nominees (people who were not qualified…remember, Bush at first wanted Harriet freaking Miers for the SCOTUS, and even his own party was like, wahhhhh?). But now the media is forgetting their history (shocker) and is saying this is a Democratic idea. Well, no, actually, thanks for playing.

But if this is the only way to fill our judicial vacancies and actually get the people’s work done, let’s do it. If and when Republicans become the majority, these rules will apply to Dems as a minority as well. Let each party own their own damn governing without a filibuster, if the rules are going to be abused in such a manner.

PS - why yes, I am streaming C-SPAN right now, if you must ask…

Update the vote to change the rules just passed. For all judicial nominees except SCOTUS, a simple majority will confirm them! Finally, a Senate that will (somewhat) function.

November 12, 2013

Going Solar: A Massachusetts Journey

by at 9:11 am.

(What follows is a very long, comprehensive post filled to the brim with everything I’ve learned about going solar. Our installation is now feeding green energy into the grid, I obsess about cloudy days, and I’m looking forward to our new investment paying us back in both money, and in knowing we’re contributing a great deal towards a green future.)

The flurry of activity in and around my homestead during two days in the week of October 7th was very disturbing to my poor dogs, but exciting for us. After a journey of more than five years in researching and planning (more on that in a bit) the contractors we hired, NuWatt Energy Inc, were on our roof installing our 4.16kWh solar electric system. A system that, it is estimated, will be providing around 80% of our current electricity usage.

Why did it take us so long, and how did we finally decide on the path we did? The answer to that, I’m hoping, will give other people a shortcut to the knowledge we got the hard way, and give you several paths to solar for your own home or business if you think you’ve got the roof for it. (more…)

October 3, 2013

Govt Shutdown and Lowell Open Studios

by at 10:49 am.

Lowell Open Studios is this weekend (Oct 5 & 6, 11am to 5pm both days). But the outlook is not rosy for all its venues.

The Brush Gallery has been closed due to the government shutdown. The Brush has a coop agreement with the National Parks Service, and therefore, if the government shuts down, The Brush (along with the Mogan Center and other venues with similar agreements) has to close its doors. And the National Parks lot is also closed, which means the downtown venues of Open Studios are all going to be affected. (And with that, also, the businesses downtown where visitors to LOS might eat and shop.)

I talked with Eileen, the director of the Brush and a friend of mine, about the situation. Since the doors are closed, the Brush will not be charging any of its tenant artists while this shutdown is in place. These artists not only show their work here but DO their work here, so closing the Bursh is especially frustrating for them. And the loss of the rent is thousands of dollars a month of lost revenue for the Brush, not to mention lost sales for the artists, lost exposure for the venue (right during the beginning of the big season for sales) and probably a substantial loss of donations, since often people who visit the Brush leave small donations.

The artist community has opened its arms to Brush artists for Open Studios weekend, and you will find a number of its artists at the nearby Gates Block Studios at 307 Market St, on the third floor. Please visit them there!

A number of Brush members have expressed gratitude for the generosity of the wider artist community for coming to their rescue for LOS. Of course, for the long haul, Brush artists are going to lose a lot of exposure and sales if the shutdown is not resolved soon.

To that end, I’d like you to keep the Brush artists in especial mind this fall and winter, as you start shopping for gifts for the holidays. Once they are open again, please consider stopping by, whether that’s for an opening for a show - they are supposed to have a new show opening in November, should the shutdown be resolved by then, called “In Cold Blood” - which is about lizards and amphibians, not murder! Or else visit them during their regular hours (once they are open) just because. Find something you love and buy it.

Also, if you are able, please consider a donation of any size to offset the loss of revenues for The Brush. Winter is coming and they will have to pay for their heat and light, and those bills are not cheap. The loss of the rental and other revenue will affect their operations budget. You can donate here online.

And let’s hope the shutdown will be resolved very soon, before it hurts more people.

July 4, 2013

Rock! Don’t Roll (over).

by at 8:05 pm.

Dissent is the cornerstone of our Liberty.

I see a woman in the night with a baby in her hand
Under an old street light near a garbage can
Now, she’s put the kid away and she’s gone to get a hit
She hates her life and what she’s done to it
That’s one more kid that’ll never go to school
Never get to fall in love, never get to be cool

Keep on rockin in the free world

We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man
We got a kindler, gentler, machine gun hand
We’ve got department stores and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people says keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive

April 18, 2013

WTF FERC?!

by at 3:47 pm.

FERC had a brainfart.

The cub reporter quickly blurted out the bits his Editor want to float:

“We find that the proposed pneumatic crest gate system can be installed without unacceptably altering the dam or adversely affecting the park and historic districts,” FERC wrote in its ruling. “The crest gate system will also provide important benefits to recreation, fish passage, dam and worker safety, and project generation, and will help alleviate upstream backwater and flooding effects to the maximum extent possible.”

Of course, there are little gems stashed in the “Order Amending License.” (h/t Corey Sciuto)

Project Economics
47. The licensees’ proposal to install an inflatable crest gate system has an estimated capital cost of $5,980,000. This capital cost results in an average, annualized cost of $956,000. We estimate that the annual cost to operate the system would be minimal.

48. Operation of an inflatable crest gate system instead of flashboards could enable the project to generate more power, because the gates could be reinflated relatively soon after high flows. In contrast, the flashboards would be washed out for an estimated three months. The licensees estimate that project operation with the inflatable crest gates would result in an increase in annual generation of approximately 8,000 megwatt hours (MWh). Using a regional estimated alternative energy value of $38.74/MWh, as determined from the Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook for 2012, this additional generation would be valued at $310,000 annually. Therefore, the net cost of the licensee’s proposed action, including total capital costs and generation benefits, would be approximately $646,000 annually.

49. Although our analysis shows that the cost of installing the crest gates would exceed the value of the increased generation, it is the applicant who must decide whether to accept this license amendment and any financial risk that entails.
(bold mine)

There is a lot to digest. Please give it a go, then chime in here.

PS. We are about to find out, if the Dept. of Interior folks are willing to take it to the next level. The Dept. of the Interior(Parks) has a brand new Secretary and Energy(FERC) is due to get a new Secretary. So, leadership may come from the locals until Obama’s Cabinet members can find their way around. This matter may be determined by which Department has better insulated its ‘Legal Eagles’ from sequestration. :v\

March 22, 2013

Gov. Patrick Pitches His Budget on LTC

by at 8:46 pm.

Here is a detailed breakdown of the Governor’s proposal by MassBudget.org.


(more…)

February 28, 2013

Lowell’s Sequester

by at 4:11 pm.

Think the sequester doesn’t affect us? Think again.

Even the Lowell Sun knows better.

If automatic federal funding cuts go into effect Friday, Lowell National Historical Park officials expect they will have to cut about $415,000 from its budget, eliminating travel for employees and park funding for programs like the Lowell Folk Festival and the Tsongas Industrial History Center.

The National Park Service has asked individual parks to prepare to cut 5 percent from their budgets, but exactly what will happen when the automatic cuts, known as sequestration, go into effect still isn’t clear, said Celeste Bernardo, the Lowell park superintendent.

“The uncertainty is really difficult,” she said.

And I have news for the Republicans among us: The projected deficit has been cut pretty dramatically and it’s gone down already, without these draconian, stupid, self-inflicted and painful slashes to our important programs and services. And it is a LACK OF GROWTH that is killing our revenues and fueling huge deficits. The last thing you should be doing in a still-recovering economy is laying off teachers and fire fighters and reducing spending on projects like roads and bridges. All of those jobs are full of people who, when employed, SPEND MONEY and create economic activity. Guess what they do when they get laid off? They stop spending!

November 8, 2012

Groundgame (h/t Andrew Howe & Ariela Gragg, et al)

by at 1:52 pm.

Not long after the Warren campaign set up shop in Lowell, I sat down with Andrew Howe to get a sense of the game plan. We both knew that, in Lowell, Brown had beat Coakley by 1001 votes in a low turnout election. We speculated that turnout would be much better and that the party demographics favored Warren, but we also honestly weighed the potential for Brown to match any gains we could make, via turnout.

In those early days, we considered a near win, a dead even match, or a slight win to be good enough for Warren, here in Lowell. If Warren could run up the margins in Boston and strong progressive towns and cities, we would have been happy to be within a nose, here in Lowell. But, then the volunteers started pouring in.

As it turned out:

Photobucket

(more…)

November 5, 2012

Shameless Chicken Counting

by at 10:11 am.

Lay it out there, folks.

I say:

Photobucket

You can make your own scenario using the NY Times map, here.
(more…)

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