UMass Acquisition of Mount Ida Comes Under Senate Scrutiny
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — The Senate plans to look into UMass Amherst's proposed acquisition of Mount Ida College, and one senator said he hopes to learn some answers before the agreement is completed.
Last week UMass announced plans to acquire the Newton campus and turn it into an offshoot of UMass Amherst, with Mount Ida students granted admission to UMass Dartmouth. Mount Ida has about 1,450 undergraduates and UMass will take control of 24 buildings and 820 residential beds on its Newton campus, under the deal.
Attorney General Maura Healey plans to look into the arrangement, and the Board of Higher Education has demanded Mount Ida provide information, including details about students' ability to continue their education at UMass Dartmouth. Board chairman Chris Gabrieli suggested that students should have more options and more information made available to them.
The Senate's inquiry will be led by Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight Chairwoman Kathleen O'Connor Ives, a Newburyport Democrat. An order adopted by the Senate and sponsored by Westport Sen. Michael Rodrigues calls for a hearing on the merits of the deal as it relates to the "fiscal impact of assuming debt and related impacts on the well-being of students, access to and quality of public higher education opportunities, existing student loans and scholarships, and impacts on other public institutions of higher education."
"We in the Massachusetts Senate feel as though we do not have enough information on this hasty acquisition," Senate President Harriette Chandler said in a statement. "I hope that more information is soon to come so that we can better analyze the diverse impacts of such an acquisition."
Rodrigues said he hopes the public can obtain answers before the deal is "fully consummated."
Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat and UMass Dartmouth graduate, criticized the arrangement in light of the ongoing financial strife at UMass Boston, and said the university should have been more transparent about it.
"When you spend five or six hundred million dollars of taxpayer money each year as we do at UMass, it's not really fair to imply that these deals can and should be done without the intrusiveness of the Legislature," Montigny told reporters. "I don't want it done in the dark of night. I want to know what the details are."
Likening the Newton campus to a country club where alumni could be entertained, Montigny said those functions could take place at the harborside campus of UMass Boston instead.
"You have folks at UMass Boston who should be apoplectic," Montigny said.
The Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst will become an extension of the biggest school in the UMass system, serving as a hub for career preparation in Greater Boston, according to the school.
On Tuesday, UMass President Marty Meehan said the move "won't negatively impact UMass Boston at all," said 70 percent of UMass Amherst students come from Greater Boston, and called the UMass Boston campus the "best location of all our campuses."
--Andy Metzger, State House News Service