Richard Freeland is a man of careful thought and measured words.
That made it noteworthy when the former state higher education commissioner and president emeritus of Northeastern University appeared at a recent hearing of the state Board of Higher Education and blasted the announcement that the University of Massachusetts Amherst planned to buy the Newton campus of Mt. Ida College. And it prompted us to invite Freeland to talk more about his concerns on The Codcast.
He said Mt. Ida students and faculty, who were blindsided by the school’s announced closure, have been “outrageously treated.” He said he focused his comments at the Board of HIgher Education hearing on the UMass part of the story because no one has adequately answered the question of what the impact will be on UMass Boston from having the university’s flagship Amherst campus set up an outpost just miles from its Dorchester campus. He told the board he thinks the likely impact will be a “cannibalization” of enrollment at UMass Boston, which is already facing serious financial struggles.
Freeland, who also spent more than two decades as an administrator at UMass Boston, said UMass Amherst is part of a system of five campuses that were established in different parts of the state for good reason.
“On the face of it, it just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense — other than the fact that it’s good for UMass Amherst,” he said of the acquisition. Freeland said he certainly understands the impulse of the Amherst campus to establish a foothold in the Boston area. “They’ve been concerned about the existence of the [UMass] Boston campus ever since it was established in the mid-1960s, which they devoutly hoped would never happen,” he said. “And once it did happen, they did things to try to weaken it and prevent it from developing.”
But the job of the UMass Board of Trustees, he said, is to look out for the welfare of the entire system.
“I’ve heard not a peep about the fact that they’ve even looked at the impact on the rest of the system,” said Freeland. “Quite honestly, it seemed to me reckless to go ahead and approve this without that examination having occurred.”
Gov. Charlie Baker’s education secretary, Jim Peyser, sits on the UMass board and voted for the purchase. “I’m disappointed in that,” said Freeland. He said Baker is governor of the whole state and should insist on a more complete analysis and demand that UMass “tell me why this is a good thing for the state, not just keep telling me why it’s a good thing for UMass Amherst.”