These are tough days at the University of Massachusetts Boston, which feels more like a stepchild of the state university system every day.
Just ask Tom Kane.
He’s executive director of the William Joiner Institute of the Study of War and Social Consequences. It’s a unit of UMass Boston, established nearly 40 years ago, to study war and its effects, and to help veterans transition back to civilian life. It isn’t a big operation, but under the school’s proposed budget, it’s about to get a lot leaner. Specifically, its five budgeted employees are about to become 1.5.
“It’s just unrealistic what they’ve done to us,” Kane said Tuesday. “We’re really just kind of immobilized at the moment.”
The Joiner Institute is one of 17 institutes on campus identified by interim chancellor Barry Mills as not pulling their financial weight. All of them have been told that they need to raise substantially more outside funding, or face extinction. Meanwhile, the amount they receive from the state is being cut substantially.
UMass officials say the institutes are a $5 million drain on the school’s budget, which is not an insubstantial number. But the cuts seem to be taking a toll on morale on campus, where many feel that they should be receiving more support from above then they are getting.
That situation wasn’t helped this week by the abrupt announcement that UMass Amherst, the system’s flagship, was acquiring and closingMount Ida College in Newton, to turn it into an outpost for UMass Amherst students who are doing internships in the city.
The juxtaposition of the state school with means (UMass Amherst) and the state school without (UMass Boston)could hardly have been more stark.
The Joiner Institute has been a resource center for issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and, more recently, military sexual assault. Its staff conducts cultural exchange programs with countries with which America has been at war, such as Vietnam and Afghanistan. It hosts an annual writer’s program, aimed at helping veterans write about their combat experiences, the better to come to terms with them.
Kane is a Vietnam-era veteran. His passion for serving veterans is infectious.
“My family personally has suffered a lot of the stress of war,” he said. “So this is a personal thing for me. But as a public health professional who has worked in 44 countries I can’t imagine a more valuable thing to be doing, with all the new young veterans coming back and the refugees who are coming.”
He sees the center’s mission as one of healing. “It’s not a simple solution of getting a job and a hero’s welcome. Even those heroes have suffered a lot of harm. They need to be listened to and to be integrated into society.”
Kane said two members of his staff have already departed, fearing the imminent elimination of their roles. By next fiscal year, Kane said, he will probably be the only employee whose salary is paid entirely by the university. If he wants more staff, he is going to have to raise the money to pay them. The center raises a modest amount from foundations and donors, but university officials believe it can raise much more, given its broad mission. “With a little more effort Joiner should be able to generate philanthropy and grants to a far greater degree than it does now,” said UMass spokesman Robert Connolly.
Fundamentally, this is a culture war. Historically, UMass Boston has defined its mission as one that extends well beyond the classroom. But those efforts are now seen as luxuries the system is no longer willing to subsidize. Yet its flagship university is free to extend its reach, and gobble up the Mount Ida campus.
Left in the middle are the communities served by institutions like Joiner, whose veterans latch onto it as a way to manage the complicated reentry to civilian life. Will UMass Boston continue to have an impact beyond its own walls?
“I’m fighting for us,” Kane said. “I’m fighting for our life and our existence.”
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.