Bob Forrant, named a Distinguished Professor instructs one of his classes. (Courtesy of The Lowell Sun)
“We can’t allow UMass Lowell to become so expensive that we become Boston University on the Merrimack.”
Dr. Bob Forrant, a professor in the UMass Lowell history department and awarded the prestigious title of Distinguished University Professor, spoke to a room full of UMass Lowell faculty and students about the need for accessible higher education.
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, Provost Michael Vayda, and UMass President Marty Meehan were all in attendance for the lecture, which was held at the Junior Ballroom in the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center.
Forrant delivered his lecture in conjunction with his nomination as Distinguished University Professor, and used his years of experience as a professor studying labor, technology and economic and social development to assess the future of the public university.
In a talk infused with both passion and light-hearted humor, Forrant made a call to demand support that public universities, UMass Lowell in particular, need to continue to provide education for students.
“I love UMass Lowell,” Forrant said, “though the place makes me angry sometimes.”
He said that the distressing trend of budget and funding cuts to public universities leads to a higher financial burden on students.
“As budgets are cut and expenses to students rise, we must collectively demand the support we need,” said Forrant.
As Forrant expanded upon in his talk, such changes to the public university model closes off education to students in middle to lower income households and actually goes against the original purpose of the public university.
Forrant brought up how the United States historically believed that an educated public was necessary for a smoothly-run democracy which led to initiatives that prioritized higher education such as the GI Bill.
However, in the past decades, public education has become commercialized, a trend that troubles Forrant.
“We rob all of our futures by making public education inaccessible,” Forrant said.
In the lecture, Forrant criticized the amount of focus placed on business growth and job creation in public education.
As students head to school like automatons preparing for work, something more meaningful is lost in the process. The drive to learn and the life-changing experiences had in university are undermined by education’s focus on churning students out like new models of cars.
Forrant traced the history of UMass Lowell which intertwines with the economic struggles that the city of Lowell experienced in the 1980s. He argued that the creation of UMass Lowell improved the local economy and stressed the importance of collaboration between the city and the University.
“In a public university setting, I am confident it should, the sum of the work stimulates me to think how the arts can convey messages of beauty and hope. How the humanities and social sciences might inform our continuous political discussions,” said Forrant.
Forrant, in his closing remarks, suggested a program to give to humanities students what the science, technology, engineering and mathematics students already have: entrepreneurship opportunities.
“We need a Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (FAHSS) version of the Innovation Hub. A place where we can think critically and collaboratively about what it means to be a growing public university located in this time and space,” Forrant said.
He cited a quote from Sarah Bagley, an advocate for women’s rights and a warrior for labor laws in Lowell: “Truth loses nothing upon investigation.”
These entrepreneurship opportunities would lead to an increased collaboration with the city of Lowell and development of the students involved.
By expanding the public university’s resources to accommodate for this kind of research and student involvement, there stands potential for UMass Lowell to reach the ideality that the U.S. once believed in so fervently.
As for the resistance to becoming the Boston University on the Merrimack River, Forrant has faith in UMass Lowell.
“Our river and our hockey team are better anyway,” he said.