2017 State of the University address

March 6, 2017

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you to Rob Manning for that introduction. Rob’s devotion to the University of Massachusetts is unparalleled. Rob, we salute you.

I know that everyone in this room has something in common with Rob, and that’s a love of UMass.

Governor Charlie Baker, we are honored by your presence. The Governor established a scholarship at UMass, honoring his grandfather by ensuring that deserving students have access to a world-class education.

One of those students is Patrice Charlot, who is with us tonight. Patrice was the first in her family to attend college and graduated from UMass Amherst two years ago with a degree in public health. In a fitting tribute to her Baker scholarship, today she works at Bottom Line, helping low-income and first-generation students get to college.

Thank you, Governor, for all that you do for UMass, and thank you, Patrice, for paying it forward.

We’re also joined by Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, a long-time supporter of UMass Medical School and a now a constant presence on all five campuses.

And Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who epitomizes the UMass story. A foster child with no financial support, he paid his way through UMass Amherst while excelling at the tuba in the marching band.

And we have another great partner and friend in House Speaker Bob DeLeo, who fundamentally understands our mission and loves to visit our campuses.

Chairman Manning acknowledged our esteemed Board of Trustees, our dedicated supporters in the legislature and our campus chancellors. I also want to acknowledge those campus CEOs. The five gifted individuals in the front row have a difficult job. I realize now – perhaps more than I did when I sat in their chairs – the diverse skill set it demands:

They need to be talented administrators, compassionate and caring mentors to students, tireless fundraisers and champions for faculty. 

Thank you Swamy, Keith, Randy, Jacquie and Michael for all that you do.

Tomorrow morning, I will recommend to the Board of Trustees a new leader for UMass Dartmouth who I’m confident will take our great research university on the SouthCoast to new heights. It will be a historic moment.

Our chancellors are supported by thousands of talented staff who wake up every day thinking about UMass.

People like UMass Dartmouth Student Success Adviser Romayne Grace, who is with us tonight. Romayne says that if a student is willing to put in the work, he will work even harder to ensure that they are successful.

Or Ken Toong of UMass Amherst, who is also here tonight, and for good reason. Ken runs a college dining operation that the Princeton Review named the best campus food in the entire nation. UMass Amherst dining services, by the way, also operates the UMass Club, our incredible hosts tonight.

Like me, many of our employees are UMass alumni who find fulfillment in helping today’s students succeed. Some of you may not have such a direct affiliation, but have been influenced by UMass. That can actually be said for nearly everyone in Massachusetts.


Because of our 75,000 students, 56,000 are Massachusetts residents. Of our half a million alumni, 290,000 live here. Including employees, there are some 360,000 Massachusetts residents with a direct connection to UMass. That means UMass is represented in one in 10 households in the state.

We are Massachusetts. We are the workforce. We are the lifeblood of the economy, and we are the engine that drives daily life.

We are also – with increasing responsibility – the institution educating Massachusetts residents.

We love our private college peers. I meet with the presidents of the private institutions in this region on a regular basis, and am constantly looks for ways to collaborate. They are critical to the present and future of this state.

But make no mistake – their missions and motivations are different than ours.

The facts are undeniable: We are serving Massachusetts in a way that our private competitors no longer do. Since 1986, enrollment of Massachusetts residents at the top eight private universities by ranking – Harvard, MIT, Tufts, BC, Brandeis, BU, Northeastern and WPI – has declined by 72 percent.

UMass educates nearly three times as many Massachusetts residents as those eight schools combined. UMass Amherst alone educates more than all eight of those schools. And while we are the only New England state that net exports college graduates, UMass grads stay here. Of the 17,000 each year, more than 70 percent remain to live and work. More than 60 percent stay long term.

That is the workforce pipeline – more than a third with STEM degrees – that keeps Massachusetts competitive globally.

It’s a primary reason why we have one of the strongest economies in the nation according to Bloomberg; that Boston is the No. 1 city for startups according to the U.S. Chambers of Commerce; that companies like GE cite our human capital when they relocate here; and why just last week U.S. News and World Report named Massachusetts the Best State in the nation.

There is no doubt that UMass is the top producer of our state’s greatest resource – a highly educated workforce. But every dean or department chair in this room has a story about a top-performing student offered an amazing work opportunity in another state… usually one that boasts a much lower cost of living.

Keeping the best and brightest in Massachusetts must be a cooperative effort between UMass, the Commonwealth and our business community. We value partners like Raytheon, Vertex, Kronos, EMC/DELL, State Street and dozens of others. In turn, they value the humble, hardworking and diverse talent that UMass provides.

When I meet with Massachusetts CEOs, I sometimes offer a simple challenge: Ask your head of HR to run a report showing where your employees received their diplomas. If the number one alma mater at your company is UMass – and I suspect that it is – ask what workforce development partnerships you have with us. If you don’t like their answer, call me and we’ll fix that.

Another reason job creators in this state love UMass is our role as an economic engine that operates in every corner of the Commonwealth, from Boston through Worcester to the Pioneer Valley, and from the SouthCoast to the Merrimack Valley and beyond.

UMass is responsible for $6.2 billion of annual economic activity – a 12-to-1 return on our state appropriation. We are the second-largest employer in the state, with more than 23,000 full and part-time employees. And 5,800 of them are highly educated, highly trained faculty that UMass attracts here from all over the globe.

We know that faculty make a university, and that excellent faculty make an excellent university. We have excellent faculty on all our campuses. They are known for their innovation and impact, and for their groundbreaking research. They are global leaders in HIV containment, climate change and the eradication of Ebola. As importantly, their work is making a difference right here at home.

Ellen Douglas and Paul Kirshen at UMass Boston are leading a research project to help keep this city above water.

Catherine Neto at UMass Dartmouth is studying compounds in cranberries that can fight bacterial infections.

UMass Amherst data scientist Andrew McCallum is working with companies like MassMutual to realize the potential of big data.

Meg Bond of the Center for Women and Work at UMass Lowell is seeking to increase gender diversity in STEM fields.

And Michael Green at the Medical School is using gene regulation to relieve human suffering while creating jobs right here in Massachusetts.

How fortunate are our students – both graduate and undergraduate – to be able to engage with these professors by virtue of our status as a research university?

At UMass, student learning is also enhanced by the constant flow of people and ideas from outside the University — from industry and government as well as from countries around the globe.

Our international scholars help us solve global problems. That work results in intercultural understandings that make us stronger… and safer.

Closing our minds and our borders does nothing to make us stronger or safer. Creating fear and anxiety does nothing to achieve those goals.

Public research universities, especially those as important to their states as UMass, won’t stand idly by while federal policies undermine our mission so directly. We must stand up and speak out.

How important is that research mission?

UMass conducts more than $632 million dollars in annual R&D, spread across all five campuses with distinct areas of focus. We bring more than $300 million dollars into the state per year through federal grants from the NIH, NSF, DOD, NASA, NOAA and others.

Our research pursuits spin out new technologies that improve our quality of life and are often commercialized right here in Massachusetts. UMass is in the top 30 worldwide for patent applications by faculty.

In the last six months alone, we filed 81 invention disclosures, had 32 patents issued, launched six start-up companies and generated more than $20 million in licensing revenues.

Those are just some of the reasons Reuters has named us one of the most innovative universities in the world for two years running.

And as president of the five-campus system that generates this incredible work, I am proud of how we are fulfilling our research and service mission while being strong stewards of resources, delivering programs of increasing quality and maintaining access and affordability.  

Our fiscal management practices have been validated over and again by the bond ratings agencies. 

We have aggressively cut costs through efficiency and effectiveness measures that will save $293 million over the next 10 years.

We were the first of all major universities to divest direct holdings in fossil fuels.

We enhanced our international stature as a comprehensive public university system when the UMass School of Law received full accreditation from the American Bar Association.

And as of this year, we are one of the few university systems in the nation to have all of our undergraduate campuses ranked top tier National Universities by U.S. News & World Report.

But we face significant challenges.

Our primary cost drivers are fixed. And while we continue to find ways to become more efficient, more entrepreneurial and generate new revenue, we have struggled to hold tuition to inflation. And we will continue to struggle.

This reality has only sharpened our focus on student affordability. We continue to collaborate with community colleges to improve pathways – including through the Baker administration’s Commonwealth Commitment program that allows Massachusetts residents to earn a four-year degree at a reduced cost – in many cases saving as much as 40 percent.

We have met the Governor’s call for more three-year degree programs, where highly focused students – including student veterans – can earn diplomas in less time for less money.

And this year, we will direct a record $275 million in university funds to student scholarships to ensure that we are providing opportunity to hardworking students with need.

To create even more access and opportunity, we must encourage our alumni and friends – at contribution levels small and large – to redouble their efforts. Fundraising remains critical and requires creativity.

I found my own creative way to maximize my contribution. Last year, I closed my congressional campaign account and converted it into the Martin and Alice Meehan Educational Foundation, a $4.2 million dollar fund to provide scholarships for students on all of our campuses.

We are also developing new models to improve financial literacy.

When I attended UMass Lowell as a first-generation college student from a working-class family, I was able to pay tuition and fees by working nights, weekends and summers. Today, the cost of a UMass education has shifted from the state to students and their families, so paying your way by scooping ice cream or mowing lawns is nearly impossible. And it’s definitely impossible writing obituaries for the Lowell Sun like I was doing.

As student debt grows across all sectors of higher education, I think it’s time to admit that most students are graduating with some level of debt. And while I work with my peers in higher education and our partners in Boston and Washington DC to address this critical issue, it is increasingly important that students assuming debt understand how it will impact their choices moving forward.

Colleges and universities can do a better job of leading in this area, which is why I’ve asked the UMass Donahue Institute and UMassOnline to leverage their significant expertise and create an online resource that provides crucial, transparent education about financing college.

This financial literacy programming will be available to all UMass students, all state university students, all community college students, and all Massachusetts High School students and their families… and it will be free.

We’re dedicated to these efforts because we’re inspired every day by the commitment of our students to their education.

Students like Chioma Okwara, another Baker scholar. Born in Kenya to Nigerian parents, she emigrated to Lowell in search of a better education, enrolled at Middlesex Community College and transferred to UMass Boston to study socio-economic barriers to quality healthcare. She is set to graduate from the UMass Medical School in June, and plans to return to Lowell to practice as a physician.

Our students with seemingly insurmountable challenges still find time to help their peers. Like Renata Teodoro. Now a senior at UMass Boston, Renata arrived from Brazil as a 6-year-old. Undocumented, the DACA order allowed her to remain here after her family was deported. Wanting to help others in her situation, she established United We Dream, the largest immigrant-youth-led organization in the nation, to help empower and protect others like her.

She is an inspiration. Thank you, Renata.

As I think about the great honor and responsibility we have to prepare these students to move on to even greater things, we are at a critical moment. This will be remembered as a difficult and contentious time in our nation’s history. We are experiencing a great clash of ideas and ideology. We aren’t enjoying the “domestic tranquility” that the framers envisioned.

That said – on this occasion, I would suggest that it is an appropriate moment to consider the role of the public research university and to reflect on where it stands in society, on its roots and mission. I would submit that public universities represent the public sphere at its finest, because institutions like UMass provide hope and opportunity.

These institutions are born out of concepts that are neither “liberal” nor “conservative.” Instead, making public higher education of the highest quality available to many is both pragmatic and idealistic.

The Land Grant Bill signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 was rooted in the concept that the individual citizen would lead a richer and more meaningful life if given access to knowledge. It was a blueprint for the American Dream., fueled by the egalitarian belief that access to higher education should not be restricted to a self-selected elite.

Today, our university is still anchored to this same foundation of pragmatism and idealism.

We have a vision of a Commonwealth where success and prosperity is within the reach of all of our citizens, and we are working tirelessly to make that vision a reality.

We take pride in the fact that we are educating the citizens of the Commonwealth. We take equal pride in the fact that we are pursuing excellence in everything that we do, because we are preparing our students to compete in a global economy, and to keep Massachusetts competitive.

This university is the institution that will chart the future of this state.

We are the University of Massachusetts. The University working for Massachusetts. Our mission is clear and our commitment is unwavering. 

And that is why tonight, 10 years to the month after being named chancellor at UMass Lowell, and now as President of the five-campus system, in what I know is the most important assignment I’ve ever had or will ever have…

I am proud to say that the state of the University of Massachusetts is strong.

Thank you for coming. God bless this Commonwealth and God bless UMass.