Saturday, 2:15 PM
UMass-Boston chancellor extolls public education as mobility tool
Globe file photo/Pat Greenhouse
J. Keith Motley
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff
University of Massachusetts Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley called today for a return to "the idea of public education as an investment" to reduce social inequality by expanding college access for low-income students.
Speaking at the university's convocation, the ceremonial start to the academic year, Motley also urged a renewed focus on molding college students into successful, civic-minded adults.
"All students who are qualified and committed to the demands of a university education should find our doors open to them," Motley told an audience of more than 200 at the UMass Boston campus center. "And we must hold fast to the larger ends of education, which comprise nothing less than the development of human beings."
In his second convocation address as chancellor, Motley highlighted the university's accomplishments over the past year, citing increases in enrollment to nearly 14,000 students, financial aid, research grants, and fund-raising. He also praised the work of specific programs and individual students for their achievements.
He welcomed new faculty and newly tenured professors, and noted that work had begun on a new $100 million science facility, which he described as the cornerstone of the university's expansion plans.
But he also spoke in broad terms about the importance of public universities in enhancing social mobility, and said the idea that private colleges can fulfill that mission alone is "wrongheaded and dangerous."
"We can reinvest modestly in public higher education. But we are derelict in our duty as a society if we end up just limping along, protecting those who quietly fear a society of equals, and subvert the futures of our children and our children's children," he said to applause.
Motley cited statistics showing that Massachusetts trails other states in spending on public universities, and called a college education a "priority worthy of a public investment."
"The return on investment on our graduates is real," he said. "Once again, we must understand that national security, as well as higher moral imperatives, demands no less."
Also speaking at the event was Paul Reville, the state's education secretary, who discussed the state's education reform efforts. Reville said that while the state's public schools made strong gains in the past decade, "profound achievement gaps" between white and minority students persist, and "income and educational achievement still closely correlate."
State leaders are studying a range of ways to make sure low-income students arrive at school ready to learn, he said, including early intervention programs aimed at reducing language deficits, and improved communication with other public agencies that work with young children.
"Schools alone are not enough to create equality in a fundamentally unequal society," he said. Reville said education leaders are beginning to study the likely daunting costs of such programs, but said the social cost of not improving child readiness would be greater.
Reville said that students will need to spend more time in school to learn what they need to.
"It's in the added time that we'll achieve ambitious goals," he said.
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