MTA conference focuses on ‘Understanding Trends, Influencing Change’
By Scott McLennan
M TA’s higher education associations — bargaining units with anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand members
and comprising faculty members, librarians,
maintenance crews, campus support staff and
administrators — are quite varied and diverse, but
they face many of the same struggles and share many
of the same concerns.
That quickly became evident during MTA’s
Higher Education Conference, “Understanding
Trends, Influencing Change,” on Friday and Saturday,
April 15 and 16, at the Westin Waltham Boston Hotel.
The conference’s opening session brought
together leaders from numerous higher education
locals representing faculty and staff at University
of Massachusetts campuses, the nine state
universities and 15 community colleges. Union
leaders from UMass Dartmouth, where workers are
affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers
Massachusetts, were among the attendees.
The conversation centered on themes
common to all public education campuses, such as
diminishing respect for workers, the pressure to do
more with less and the disturbing trend of turning
educators’ work into a flow of data points.
“The mentality at the top looks at students and
workers as units,” said Carl Ericson, co-chair of the
Professional Staff Union at UMass Amherst.
Several association leaders at the session pointed
out examples of the heavy hand that administrators
are taking in campus governance. Massachusetts
Community College Council President Joseph
LeBlanc, whose statewide association recently
ratified a contract marked by unusually contentious
bargaining, told those who will be heading into
contract renewals for the first time since Governor
Charlie Baker took office: “Watch out. You’re in for
the fights of your lives.”
Attacks on public higher education employees
have taken many different forms, including tenure
denials for faculty, privatization of services once
provided by public employees, and increasing the
amount that employees pay just to park at their
M uch attention at the conference centered on the problems of adjunct faculty members, who remain poorly paid and are often
unable to receive benefits such as health care even as
they teach an ever-increasing number of courses.
In her welcoming remarks, MTA President
Barbara Madeloni said that diminished funding and
an emphasis on gathering data are issues shared by
higher education and public schools. She said the
Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education
law passed last year, has a mechanism for the charter
school model to enter public higher education via
educator preparation programs.
MTA Vice President Janet Anderson also greeted
the conference attendees. During her comments,
Anderson thanked those in the audience for their
service to students as well as to their fellow union
Henry Cornu, president of the Maintenance and
Trades Union at UMass Lowell, succinctly expressed
another shared view: “We have a lot of work ahead
of us, but with solidarity among all the unions, we
C.J. O’Donnell, president of the Massachusetts
State College Association, pointed out successes by
state university members in tempering managerial
Despite onerous proposals faced by the MCCC
during bargaining, the final contract preserved many
workers’ rights and the academic freedoms that
members were most concerned about, LeBlanc noted.
On Saturday, Inside Higher Ed Editor Scott
Jaschik presented a workshop in which he offered an
overview of what may be on the horizon for public
colleges and universities, depending on who wins
the upcoming presidential election, and he analyzed
various “tuition-free” public college proposals being
floated by the White House and some candidates.
While tuition-free community colleges have
been successful in some places, such as Tennessee,
Jaschik said, the programs won’t be successful
without adequate funding from federal and state
Other workshops examined trends in staffing
and funding for public colleges and universities as
well as the intersection of higher education policy
There were also sessions examining
opportunities to learn about engaging in collective
activity around political campaigns and mastering
the art of Google Docs.
The conference ended with a question-and-answer session with Massachusetts Higher
Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago and
UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney.
Incoming MCCC Vice President Jeff Seideman, an
adjunct professor at Massachusetts Bay Community
College, pressed Santiago to pledge his support
for better pay and working conditions for adjunct
Santiago stopped short of making promises but
did say that public colleges and universities need to
increase the number of full-time faculty members
and improve conditions for adjuncts.
To see more photos of the conference, please
In top photo, MTA higher education members listened intently during a workshop presented by
Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, that explored national policy trends facing colleges
and universities. Above, from left to right, PSU Amherst Co-Chair Carl Ericson, MSP Amherst
President Randall Phillis, CSU UMass Boston President Janelle Quarles and MTU UMass Lowell
President Henry Cornu were among the participants in a leadership panel discussion.
Photos by Scott McLennan