Chancellor Johnson talks momentum in town hall meeting

By Staff Writer Samantha Wahl. During his Town Hall meeting on Wednesday, Chancellor Robert E. Johnson stressed the importance of momentum. After an eight-year downward trend, he says, UMass Dartmouth is finally on the rise again. He tells the crowd, “for the first time in years, our enrollment rate is up.” He repeats it one more time for emphasis, and there are chuckles from the crowd. “We have momentum. We’re moving in the right direction.” And indeed, it seems, we are. The class that graduated last year was one of the largest in UMass Dartmouth history. This year, freshman enrollment is up by seven percent. There has been an uptick in law school enrollment. The SAT scores of incoming freshmen are up. Things are, objectively, looking up for UMass Dartmouth. Prior to 2010, Johnson acknowledges, UMD was in a rough spot. He recalls the general view of the university was along the lines of: “UMass Dartmouth is dead. Why would you want to go there?” Roadblocks the university was facing included low enrollment and budgetary concerns. Nowadays, though, Johnson and his associates have been doing extensive work on the budget, as well as the university roster. He projects a slide of all the new administrators that have been hired recently. Among them are new Vice Chancellors for University Advancement, for Talent, for Diversity, and of Student Affairs; a new Chief of Staff; and new deans for the Colleges of Engineering and Arts &Sciences respectively. There have been budgetary improvements as well. The Chancellor explains that upon discovery that staff members were working huge amounts of overtime to cover for vacant administrative positions, new hires were made that helped the university’s finances run more efficiently. Instead of paying huge amounts of overtime, the university could pay a regular rate to employees dedicated to underserved areas. In this way, the university actually ended up saving money by increasing its staffing. Moves like this are freeing up space in the university budget. And ladies and gentlemen, we are definitely going to need that room. Chancellor Johnson explains that in the coming years, the university will be undertaking at least three large endeavors. Two of those are major construction projects- a $134 million plan for new freshman residence halls and a new dining hall. The groundbreaking for this project is set for November 8. Also on the agenda is a fifty-four million dollar College of Science and Engineering renovation, which Johnson explains will benefit the building’s roof, windows, and other structural elements. Another goal that the Chancellor has, that is already underway, is the construction of what he calls a “community policing model.” The school has committed to hiring six to eight new campus police officers. Despite the recent turbulence in the Cedar Dells, the Chancellor insists that these new hires have nothing to do with recent student behavior. Instead, the hires will improve the lives of the existing officers, who currently need to work long shifts – Johnson uses the term “double doubles”- in order to keep the campus properly staffed. For this reason, more police hiring will make for a better atmosphere on campus. Towards the end of the Town Hall meeting, an audience member asks the Chancellor if the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is still a school in crisis. “It is not… period.” He responds confidently. “Do we have issues? Sure. Absolutely. But we are not in crisis.” In short, our Chancellor is excited for the future. The University has hit upon some good momentum, and Dr. Johnson is determined to keep it going. “I’m not saying by any stretch of the imagination that… we’ve fixed everything,” he says. “But we’re headed in the right direction, and if we continue to work together, we will only get better and better.”  

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