Higher Education

Higher Education

UMass Dartmouth chancellor begins second year with ambitious agenda

This article was originally published by SouthCoastToday and the Fall River Herald.

DARTMOUTH – After his first year at the helm, while presiding in May over his first graduation and the 118th for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Chancellor Robert Johnson identifies three major priorities as he looks ahead.

One pertains to the “future of work” that he breaks into two components.

For traditional students in the 17-22-year-old range, who studies suggest could have “17 jobs” during their careers, UMass Dartmouth will create a “future work academy” to help them prepare for chosen fields as well as jobs that won’t exist in a decade. Flip back 10 years or so, and Johnson said suggesting students be educated for now-popular jobs as social media managers “you would have been laughed out of the room.”

Back in May when he told the graduates their generation was poised to cure cancer, stop global warming and eliminate world hunger, he exclaimed, “This is your time!”

For older adult UMass Dartmouth students, future work preparation will be in the form of a “boot camp” educating them with a mind set to be engaged students with agile minds looking to acquire “more than a skill set” for the next job, Johnson said. Otherwise, in 3-5 years when a job could become obsolete or done by robots, they’re back in the same retraining boat again.

Rebuilding their main campus of 710 acres with $763 million of deferred maintenance, according to their master plan, must start, Johnson said.

Last month their trustees announced approval of $133.9 million, the bulk of which is to replace the first-year residence halls with higher quality living and learning spaces to include classrooms, study lounges and recreational space. It will include $26 million for a new student dining commons. An additional $54 million will be invested to renovate the nearly 50-year-old science and engineering building, nearly half paid by state capital improvement funds.

That will total 18 percent of that deferred maintenance and “make a huge dent,” Johnson said.

Point three Johnson touted, as he has for several months, is “launching a blue wave economy corridor” with an Interstate -195 regional connection from Fall River and Providence to Cape Cod . As the sole national research university south of Boston, he sees a three-year plan to catalog the region’s marine assets using innovation and collaboration from businesses and the state for a better future with bigger opportunities.

The key question, he asked: “How do we plant the seeds to make it happen?

As the first African American chancellor at UMass Dartmouth, Johnson, a Detroit native who similarly broke education leadership barriers during 25 years working to ensure access to education, also shared these points during a recent 45-minute Herald News-Taunton Gazette editorial board discussion.

  • With just 29 percent of Bristol County residents holding a bachelor’s degree, compared with the state average of 43 and a national average of 31, educating more of the population, including first generation students, is a priority. Good news is that for the first time in the past 7-8 years, enrollment is flat and has not declined for September, Johnson said.

  • Well over one-third of the student body lives south of Boston. “We’re taking kids from right here, right now.”

  • The recently announced moratorium partnership between the university and five universities in Portugal, and a separate one between the UMass Dartmouth Portuguese center and a diplomatic institute in Portugal is among many positive initiatives not always known to the general population.

  • An internal campaign is to ensure all of the university’s 1,400 employees know about initiatives like the Portugal memorandum so they can share them in the general community.

  • The reallocation of 144 of 350 full-time faculty members to departments based on student enrollment, with total cost of those reallocated positions now at $21.7 million, a $2.5 million savings; the number of tenured tracks was increased and part-time faculty reduced.

Robert Johnson