To the editor:
Graduations are among the most important and joyful milestones that we encounter in life, as a student is rewarded for years of hard work and looks to a future full of possibilities and promise.
The recent graduation ceremonies at UMass Dartmouth also appeared to be a significant moment in the life of the institution that is so important to this region and to the entire Commonwealth.
It was a moment when UMass Dartmouth was able to point to its more than 1,900 bright and accomplished graduates and say ‘this is who we are’ — and the outside world noticed and agreed.
Certainly, these have been very difficult weeks for members of the UMass Dartmouth community.
I know that I felt a graduate’s special pain when I learned that one of the two people being sought in connection with the Marathon tragedy was a UMass Dartmouth student — though it was hard for me to ever think of him that way as, in my view, anyone who places a live bomb on a sidewalk filled with men, women and children at that moment severs his or her ties with society’s civilized institutions.
But we have lived through these harrowing weeks and, like the students with newly minted degrees in hand, must now look to the future.
One of the things that was nurtured during my years at UMass Dartmouth was my commitment to public service — and that desire to serve led me to the position I am now honored to hold, representing the First Bristol & Plymouth District in the Massachusetts Senate.
This week, a proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 will be reported out to the Senate, and there are people who have wondered whether the marathon tragedy should somehow affect the UMass system’s level of funding. This question is being raised at a time when there is significant momentum behind giving UMass its first major funding increase in many years.
This push is largely attributable to a proposal UMass President Robert L. Caret made a year ago when he said UMass would freeze tuition and fees if the state could increase its level of funding for UMass such that the state and students would provide equal shares of the funding for the university’s education programs.
This year, students and their families are providing 57 percent of the funding via tuition and fees and the state the remaining 43 percent, a significant change from the models of the past.
During the current budget process, Governor Patrick proposed and the House has approved funding for year one of this two-year process and thus the Senate now has an opportunity to stand with UMass and take a step that would guarantee that students and their families would see tuition and fees remain frozen in the 2013-2014 academic year.
In doing so, the Senate would be striking a blow for quality and affordability, would be bucking the national trend that has seen most states cut back on funding for public higher education and would also be sending an important message to UMass Dartmouth students and to students across the UMass system. And that message would be: You will not be penalized because of the tragic and inexplicable acts of a former student and because of the misguided actions of three people accused of providing him subsequent support.
These are all important messages and it is also important to recognize that the people charged with committing these acts will have their day in court. And that is where this matter should be addressed — in the judicial system, not in the state budget process.
The Massachusetts Senate has the opportunity to strengthen UMass and to assist students and their families. Public universities are about creating enlightened citizens and building a better society and a better future. These are the things that UMass Dartmouth students, faculty, staff and alumni stand for and have stood for for more than a century. This is why we have built a region, a state and a nation that others can only envy.
By maintaining this commitment and these strengths, we face down those who would chart a darker course and build a fitting memorial to the men, women and children who have suffered and died during this tragic period.
Sen. Michael J. Rodrigues
Sen. Rodrigues represents the First Bristol and Plymouth District and serves as Senate chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue.
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