Groundbreaking of New Building Inspires Alumnus to Reflect on University Mission
February 27, 2013
I went up to Boston for the groundbreaking ceremony for the first new academic building on the UMass Boston campus since 1974. It was a moving bit of theater. The university chancellor is a bigger than life figure who gets what my alma mater wanted to be when it grew up--and why. UMass Boston was designed to be a public university for people of limited means that would provide an education equivalent to or better than you could get at the big-name school in Cambridge those Kennedy boys liked so much.
"Listening to some of the students talk Monday night and again today, teaching
is still at the forefront," of UMass Boston's mission says Harry Proudfoot '75.
Photo: UMass Boston in the early 1970's.
When I was there the average undergrad was 27, married with two kids--and was holding down a full-time job. In 40 years, not much has changed. The average student is a little younger--and that is about it. Most are the first people in their families to attend--let alone graduate from--college. We called it Harvard-across-the-river. It still is.
Much of who I am was born there. I wrote well when I got there but the writer I am really came to be there. We were encouraged to take intellectual and academic risks in every class. If you wanted an A you needed to be teaching your professors as much about the texts you were reading as they taught you.
Every day in every class was an intellectual adventure that required you had not only done the reading but spent a great deal of time thinking about what you had read. I have been to Oxford for some of my graduate work--and the rest was done at what most consider the most challenging masters degree program on the planet. But none of my graduate courses ever were more challenging than the courses I took at UMass Boston as an undergraduate--and none were on the same level as the toughest course I took there.
Listening to some of the students talk Monday night and again today, teaching is still at the forefront. What you publish matters, but not as much as whether you can change an uncertain hand into a confident voice that argues from what the evidence says rather than from what you wish it said. It is a place--still--that builds critical thinkers rather than reciters.
There is an excitement and energy in the student center that takes me back to the days I was there--when the school was barely a decade old and still trying to find its place in the academic world. We were working--each of us--students, faculty, and administrators--to create an identity for our school. Nearly 50 years later, while the vision remains what it always was and some of our dreams have reached reality, the energy of a new venture permeates the place in ways I have never seen on any other college campus.
I was insanely proud on the day I graduated--proud not just for myself and what I had done--but proud of the place I was graduating from. I know that some people, when you ask them where they went to school, talk about where their last degree was from--especially those who went to a "mere" public college or university. I've never had that attitude. The first place I talk about is UMass Boston and what a great education I got there.
And after two events on campus and sitting in the student center and listening to the conversations going on around me, I have to say that I am even more proud because of what the school has continued to be, what it has become, and what it continues to grow into.
If you are a student looking for a school, this is the place you want to be. It will help you grow into the most powerful and intelligent you you can become.
If you are an alumnus/a, find a way to get back on campus--even for a few hours. Then think about what UMass Boston gave you and the ways you can give back. The University gave each of us the skills to become what we have become. We owe the current and future students of our University the same opportunity.
Harry Proudfoot '75