DARTMOUTH — Students protesting the closing of New Bedford’s Star Store received support from Mayor Jon Mitchell and state Sen. Mark Montigny Friday, as both elected officials called on the University of Massachusetts to refund tuition.
“UMass must provide student-artists with tuition reimbursement for their ill-advised and rushed exit from Star Store,” read a statement from Montigny, which was shared by his legislative director and surrogate, Audra Riding, at a protest on the Dartmouth campus.
“I agree with the affected students that, at a minimum, they deserve a partial refund of their tuition,” Mitchell stated in a letter read to protesters. The mayor noted he had a previous commitment that prevented his attendance at the event.
“We continue to discuss the matter with the governor, the UMass president, and the building’s owner,” added Mitchell, “to see what might be possible in light of the condition of the building and the needs of the program.”
The political support comes after student organizers pressured elected officials to respond to the university, which abruptly closed the downtown New Bedford campus weeks before the start of the academic year. Since the closing, students say the university has failed to furnish proper course materials and space for class meetings, or provide clear communication about plans for the College of Visual and Performing Arts, including impending midterms.
Last week, student organizers Fallon Navarro and Jill McEvoy confronted Gov. Maura Healey during a live radio broadcast to ask for her support to schedule a meeting with UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark Fuller. During that broadcast, Healey responded, “We’ll make sure you get that meeting.”
Students said Friday they have received no further contact from the governor’s office, nor have they been able to meet with Fuller.
However, some administrators did meet with the organizers, including interim Provost Ramprasad Balasubramanian, CVPA Dean Lawrence Jenkens, and Vice Chancellor of Facilities David Gingerella. The administrators did not address students’ main concerns, they said, and instead informed students that the former Bed Bath & Beyond location (where studios will be located once permits are approved) will lack gas kilns, glaze mixing equipment, and other essential tools.
Navarro, the student organizer, said she asked the administrators about students’ request for reimbursement. Administrators told her they may set up a fund, for which students could submit receipts for art materials they have purchased since the Star Store’s closure, she said.
“That totally misses the point,” said Navarro.
In addition to Friday’s protest, which took place directly beneath administrators’ offices, students penned another letter. They wrote that none of the university’s most recent actions substantively address the lack of education being provided nor their request for reimbursements.
“As of this letter, we are 52 days without our studio space and 29 days without receiving the education we’ve paid for,” they wrote. “Each delay derails our planned artistic growth and career trajectory. This situation has been and continues to be a nightmare for students and faculty.”
Now, with the support of Mitchell and Montigny, organizers say they are optimistic. Many protestors cheered in appreciation for Mitchell’s statement seeking further collaboration: “I pledge to you to do my best to rectify what has happened, and I certainly welcome your ideas.”
Montigny also said he asked the state’s inspector general to investigate the entire situation and called for further action from the UMass Building Authority.
Student organizers said they will meet with Mayor Mitchell on Wednesday for further discussion.
“It’s been easier to meet with the Mayor, our state senator, even the governor than it is to meet with our own chancellor,” said Navarro.
Email Colin Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org