University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan delivered an inaugural state of the university address Monday evening highlighting the public university’s importance to the state’s economy and pledging support for its international scholars.
Hours after President Trump issued a new executive order restricting travel to the United States from certain countries, Meehan used part of his speech to blast federal immigration restrictions.
"Closing our minds and our borders does nothing to make us stronger or safer. Creating fear and anxiety does nothing to achieve those goals," said Meehan.
He urged leaders at all public universities to voice support for their international faculty and students.
"Public research universities, especially those important to their states as UMass, must not stand idly by while federal policies undermine our mission so directly. We must stand up and we must speak out," said Meehan.
Two UMass Dartmouth professors, both from Iran and both permanent residents of the United States, got caught up in the travel ban that resulted from President Trump’s January 27 executive order. They were detained at Logan Airport in Boston after returning home from an engineering conference in France. The professors became plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that led to a restraining order against the first travel ban.
Meehan, a former Democratic congressman, said the immigration ban would greatly harm the university because to maintain its status as a top research university it must attract faculty and students from around the world.
" Our international scholars help us solve global problems and that work results in intercultural understanding makes us stronger and safer, " said Meehan.
The speech was delivered before an audience of about 300 people at the UMass Club in downtown Boston. Many university officials and elected leaders were present including Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. The address was also streamed live.
Much of Meehan’s 23-minute address was used to tout the five-campus system’s far-reaching impact on the state’s economy. He said the university generates an estimated $6.2 billion in annual economic activity as the second-largest employer in the state.
He said UMass is a workforce pipeline with 70 percent of the 17,000 students who graduate each year remaining in the state.
" This university is the institution that will chart the future of this state," he said adding, " Our mission is clear and our committment is unwavering."
Meehan’s address came as Beacon Hill will soon take up the annual state budget debate over how much taxpayer money to give to the university, where student fees and tuition have increased in recent years.
The budget proposed by Gov. Baker would give UMass $516 million, about $40 million less than the university asked for.
Despite an increase in scholarship funding, the introduction of more three-year degree programs, and the acceptance of more transfers from two-year schools, it is nearly impossible for students to graduate from UMass without taking on some debt, Meehan conceded.
He said the university was developing an online course on financial literacy for students.
" This will be available to all UMass students, to all state university students, to all community college students, and to all Massachusetts high school students and their families. And it will be free, free to all, " said Meehan.
To encourage more UMass alumni to give to their alma mater, Meehan, a graduate of UMass Lowell, said he closed out his congressional campaign account last year and turned it into a $4.2 million scholarship fund.