I know that UMass Dartmouth’s sudden departure from the Star Store has been disruptive for the roughly 150 students who took classes there and disappointing to everyone who enjoys the vibrant downtown New Bedford arts community. There has been a lot of speculation — and misinformation — about why we had to leave. Here are plain and simple answers to the five questions I’ve been asked the most.

Why didn’t UMass Dartmouth buy the Star Store for $1? 

It sounds too good to pass up, doesn’t it? But this was never a $1 purchase. The 20-year lease expired shortly after I arrived in 2021, and I knew we needed to understand what the purchase would mean. An analysis revealed that just operating the building (utilities, security, routine maintenance, cleaning and shuttles) would cost roughly $1 million each year. There was also a huge deferred maintenance bill, which DCAMM (the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance) estimated could cost up to $75 million, given the state’s new accessibility and energy codes. Add the two together, and it was clear that owning the building would cost far more than anyone imagined — while it was serving half the number of students it had been two decades ago.  

Read all The Light’s coverage of the departure of UMass Dartmouth’s College of Visual and Performing Arts from the Star Store.

With no state or city funds committed to the needed renovations, these costs would inevitably fall on the backs of our 7,500 students in the form of additional tuition increases — now and for years to come. I could not in good conscience buy a building for 150 students that would add such a significant financial burden to thousands of others, when more than half of our students are from working-class families. The purchase would also delay much-needed repairs to the academic facilities on our main campus, including our College of Visual & Performing Arts (CVPA) building. I believe that declining the purchase option was the right decision, and would do the same today.

If you couldn’t buy it, why didn’t you extend the lease?

That is exactly what we tried to do. After determining the purchase wasn’t affordable, we immediately tried to continue the longstanding arrangement. Each year, we spent roughly $3.1 million on the Star Store lease. That was affordable because the annual state appropriation of $2.7 million covered the lion’s share — the university only had to make up the roughly $400,000 difference.  

When the Senate unexpectedly blocked the appropriation in the budget this summer, we were out of options. We could not pay the full cost of the lease, had no insurance, and were at risk of being locked out of the building at any moment. We had no choice but to leave immediately, even though we knew this would be incredibly disruptive, just three weeks before the fall semester. 

How are you supporting the affected students? 

There were about 150 students who took at least one class at the Star Store. We were able to quickly relocate the 24 courses serving 116 undergraduates — who already take most of their classes on our main campus — in time for the fall semester.

Meeting the needs of our 25 in-person MFA students who were wholly based in the Star Store, however, has been a greater challenge. We know this has been a painful and frustrating change for these accomplished artists. Here are some of the steps we’ve taken to address their needs:

  • Called incoming new students to explain the situation and asked if they wanted to defer;
  • Created a fund to reimburse graduate students for supplies that couldn’t be moved;
  • Provided six extra weeks for them to decide if they wanted to withdraw and receive a refund;
  • Identified a transitional space that we are building out for this academic year while working towards permanent facilities;
  • Hired architects who specialize in art education facilities to help us prepare a new permanent home for our MFA program.

We understand that the temporary facilities are not what our MFA students expected to have this fall, and will continue to work with them and their faculty as we make further improvements.

Is the university shrinking its arts programs? 

Absolutely not. Some leaders try to cut their way out of budget pressure, but my approach is to grow our way out, and I’ve doubled down on recruitment. We have thriving arts programs that are on the rebound, despite what others have claimed. Since I arrived and we restructured and modernized our recruitment processes, CVPA enrollments have grown by nearly 10%. As a research university, we believe that sustaining strong graduate programs, like our highly regarded MFA program, is a crucial part of our mission. 

Is UMass Dartmouth abandoning New Bedford? 

Never. From our founding as the New Bedford Textile School and our merger with the Swain School of Design to today — with more than 600 students, 150 employees, and 3,500 alumni living in the city — New Bedford is an inextricable part of UMass Dartmouth’s past and future. That’s why we’re expanding programs that enable New Bedford High School students to earn college credits now. It’s why we invested $35 million in a second SMAST building, where our research supports the fishing and offshore wind industries and protects our coastline. It’s why our Worker’s Education Program downtown is preparing residents for successful careers. It’s why UMass Dartmouth students volunteer for thousands of hours in New Bedford each year, harvesting fresh vegetables for area food pantries, tutoring kids, and holding pro bono legal clinics. 

The university, the City of New Bedford, and indeed the entire South Coast are on the rise right now with so much potential ready to be unleashed. I welcome a serious dialogue about how we can strengthen our bonds in ways that create win-wins for both the community and our 7,500 students.

Mark Fuller is the chancellor of UMass Dartmouth, former dean of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, and a first-generation college graduate who has dedicated his career to public higher education.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why didn’t you start a public discussion back in 2021 when you first realized there was a problem? Hiding the issue from the students, the art community and the public was clearly not a way to help find a solution.

  2. Frankly, it does feel like from the University/Fuller’s perspective that he did the right action. If these were the costs, and it was preventing a main campus upgrade, then I can see WHY he did what he did. It absolutely sucks for the MFA Students and the majority of the CVPA students, and the way he put it was blunt, but I can see the justification in the action. It just sucks.

  3. Ok, if they weren’t able to afford renovations because more important renovations are needed in CVPA, when is that happening exactly? I’d like to see some action. Also, it’s shameful how the MFA students got swept under the rug. Their options sucked. Plain and simple. It feels like no one cares because it’s not a large enough number of students for people to care. But these are students, possibly moreso than us undergrads. Undergrads just don’t take college as seriously as grad students do. They paid for these classes and studio space. They were denied that. More reimbursement is needed, at the very least. Support the grad students. Support art.

  4. This statement should have happened prior to the decision being made Mr. Fuller. It was extremely unprofessional to let everyone know via the media announcement. Secondly, this is a very divisive letter in that it basically pits the art students against the rest of student body. By the Fuller saying that the cost to keep the Star Store campus open would have been the burden of the other students, you have made it an art students verse the world scenario. The truth is that the cost of the Star Store was supposed to be something that the university was putting money aside for throughout the life of the lease. Whether the university fulfilled that commitment or not does not become the onus of the art students. Additionally, the landlord did not perform his duties as a maintainer of the building. There should never have been 75 million in deferred maintenance. That needs to be scrutinized as well.

  5. Nonsense! This letter is full of excuses. Fuller’s “solutions” show an utter lack of consideration for the students’ needs and understanding of their point of view. What do wind industry research and food pantries have to do with the fact that a dedicated group of fine art students have been chucked out of the Star Store after rearranging their lives to attend classes and complete their master’s-level studies there? He was clearly hoping to brush the Star Store situation under the rug, and has only penned this strange document in an effort to cover himself. The New Bedford Light and the brave students who spoke up for themselves have forced him to say something; otherwise, he would have continued to hide out in his office.

  6. The explanation shows an incredible lack of planning on the part of the University. My question is: Given the estimated cost of maintenance and upgrade to the iconic Star Store, how does that compare to the cost of a new building elsewhere? How does that compare to the cost of a re-modeled storefront? Was any thought given to the impact on the downtown area of the closure? Is this a case of “Let’s take the easiest out for us and the public and city be damned”? Will the Star Store become yet another abandoned eyesore in the downtown area to later become a vacant lot destined to be yet another parking lot for cars that never come?

  7. Fuller should be nominated for Joker chancellor of the year.only cruelest joke is on the students faculty and New Bedford who gifted UMASS opportunity of the decade.. a building for a buck and yeah they had to due diligence MAINTAIN IT like we,all do to our homes or businesses..oh cry me a,river Fuller! Big deal you want to smooth over your destruction of the Star Store and the,Arts,at UMASS by pointing to SEMAST and your art studios in exile and volunteer hrs in NB which actually are goodie points that enhance the,Universitys,ratings .No you don’t have any commitment to the City or you wouldn’t have abandoned it so quickly and in such shabby fashion.Frankly keep your volunteer hours many in the SouthCoast don’t want you here,anymore.You’ve broken your contract w us.UMASS D PERSONA NON GRATA!

  8. A polite, but disingenuous smokescreen. Chancellor Fuller knows better than anybody that the University wanted to get out of the Star Store for quite some time. The rumor was on the street for months. When the opportunity presented itself, they seized upon it instantly, stealthily and without warning lest the issue of the lease be fixed and the opportunity lost. Mr Fuller, we aren’t stupid and we expect a little honesty and integrity from someone in your position.

  9. I think Senator C.W.Montigny deserves our thanks for first, being at the front in making this satellite art college possible and secondly, paying attention to the plan’s oversight, seeing that he actively infused himself into taking credit for the inception and his sudden realization that the dissolution was not his fault! Ah, no!

  10. Everyone knows that in the UMass system, Amherst and Lowell matter and the rest are left to their own devices. UMass (the system) could have made this all work over the past 23 years, but they did not. They did have millions to purchase other properties, but not one that benefitted a rival arts program, not one that would sustain the best arts program in the “system”, and one of the very best in New England. Just look at the UMD campus top leadership over the past years chosen by Pres. Mehan, REALLY, just look at it! The SouthCoast has been dealt an insult once again, we should NOT take this lying down.

  11. Chancellor Fuller’s dispatch contains more rationalizations for the
    university‘s shocking abandonment of the Star Store in New Bedford’s heart, its downtown.

    What we have here is ivory tower thinking at its most notorious.

    We keep hearing of the Star Store’s “enormous“ deferred maintenance costs, but there’s no substance to the statement. Somewhere in the inner sanctum of state government, somewhere at the University or somewhere in the Department of Capital Asset Managenent (DCAM) there should be a report outlining the specific nature of deferred maintenance needs. The Department of Capital Asset Management, which oversees state buildings, could only issue a “wild guess” of $16,000,000.

    We know the university undertook its own deferred maintenance study several years ago but the results are a mystery to the public. We’ve heard $30 million, $50 million, and now the latest amount is $75 million. No such report has ever been made public. Reporters attempted to get even a bare list of required repairs and were denied.

    The Star Store was renovated 20 years ago by one of the nation’s leading contractors at a cost exceeding $20 million yet the Chancellor insists the Star Store has deficiencies such that the university can’t afford to stay there. He has to abandon the building to save the university.

    The Star Store was part of the university and to imply that it’s continued occupancy would lead to the university’s physical demise is ludicrous.

    Can a recently renovated building fall into such disrepair so quickly?

    Think of this: would any developer take back a building with the magnitude of deferred maintenance that the Chancellor maintains? The downtown real estate market is hardly strong enough to support that level of repair plus residential and/or retail buildout and still make a profit. The developer took it back because he knows it’s a perfectly workable building.

    The only conclusion is that there’s no report, there’s no list and the $75,000,000 repair bill is simply a ruse.

    What does need attention is the roof but this will not come close to even the $30 million deferred maintenance first floated by the university.

    The HVAC system may, in fact, need an upgrade but, unless the system has completely failed, the upgrade can be planned and implemented over the next year or two.

    If the university is smart it will look at alternative methods including cogeneration which results in serving the building’s electric, hot water and heating needs. While this sounds expensive, the local utility will help defray the capital cost with a significant financial contribution. Moreover such a system can be configured to also deliver air conditioning. The benefit is significant savings such that the system can pay for itself over several years while reducing the utility bill over the long term.

    For those who doubt this approach, all four high rise buildings owned by the housing authority successfully made these conversions in the past fifteen years. If the housing authority can do it, so can the university.

    The Chancellor bemoans the $1,000,000 needed annually to operate the facility. But this is substantially less than the annual lease payment and there are proven ways to reduce utilities, while working with the city in solving transportation and parking issues.

    The chancellor wants us to believe that student tuition increases would be needed to amortize the costs of Star Store’s renovatlon, but that’s not the way university capital funding works and he knows it.

    Does he plan on raising tuition to deal with the hundreds of millions of deferred maintenance he says is in the main campus? No. Those costs will be funded mostly through bonds raised by the UMass Building Authority, university fund raising and financed with appropriations.

    It’s ironic that the university would allow the state to expend over $5,000,000 in lease payments these last two years for a building it does not want to purchase and occupy.

    The Chancellor seems to draw back the curtain to reveal that he alone made the decision to abandon the downtown. It wasn’t the UMassBuilding Authority, it wasn’t the UMass Board, it wasn’t Department of Capital Asset Management and it wasn’t the Legislature. But for the $1 he did not want to spend, the art programs would be prospering today at Star Store.

    He claims it was a good conscience decision, but it seems he saw an opening to leave Star Store and he snatched it. In spite of his “regret” for leaving the city, it’s obvious he didn’t want to stay in the downtown in the first place.

    How can one say this?

    The Chancellor fails to note that there was an $8 million bond available in 2020 to address HVAC issues. Knowing the purchase option was looming and the University could soon own the building for $1, did the Chancellor initiate plans to address HVAC deficiencies? Did he seek engineering help to evaluate conditions and initiate designs? Did he engage the UMass Building Authority of the Department of Capital Asset Management? There’s no evidence that he did any of the things one would expect a prospective owner to do to upgrade the building’s HVAC system. Proper asset management would dictate that one begins planning for the needed capital investment when one has available resources. Proper university administration dictates that you engage engineers, DCAM and UMBA to move forward with the improvements.

    In subsequent years there was $30 million in bonding authority for deferred maintenance remediation and another $20 million for repairs in Governor Baker’s budget. Over $58 million was available for short, medium and long term repairs to the Star Store. It was more than enough to maintain the Star Store as a modern, functioning art school now and into the forseeable future. But nothing was done.

    Why did the Chancellor not work to initiate planning, design and implementation to remediate the deficiencies he’s so quick to assert?

    The costs had nothing to do with it. He had available resources to do the work. A committed asset manager, a committed administrator would have initiated work by hiring design professionals and prodding the relevant state agencies and boards to move forward.

    One can only conclude that the Chancellor did not want to continue occupying the Star Store. In spite of available resources, he just sat on his hands.

    The tragedy is that an out of towner with no ties to the city nor any knowledge of the city’s 40 year efforts to revitalize its core and strengthen its tax base made the decision to close the Star Store, without any consultation with the Mayor, downtown business interests or the downtown arts community.

    .Now we must see whether local leaders and downtown business and art communities will allow an outsider, with no knowledge of the city’s vast revitalization efforts, to vacate, without warning, in broad daylight, in full of the public, the Star Store’s students, artworks and equipment, locking the doors of the downtown’s crown jewel simply because he wants to.


  12. Fuller’s explanation attempt is simply gloss and no substance. The guy is a marionette for Meehan who has remained amazingly absent in this debacle, particularly since the university head was able to conjure up $75 million a few years back to buy Mt. Ida.

  13. A stark warning (and good luck) to those poor souls who are supposedly applying to the CVPA in increasing numbers. May they take this as an example of exactly how this school feels about its art students. Look at how they have treated the students and faculty in what the chancellor calls their “highly regarded” MFA program. If you think it can’t happen to other segments of the program, I would only say this: lip service means nothing, actions are evidence.

    This statement should have come months ago, and an in-person meeting with students should have happened as well, but it would have taken courage to face sad and angry students in person. This is too little, too late.

  14. Chancellor Fuller has added several legitimate points to this discussion. There is no question that renovating an old building to meet new access and safety standards would be very expensive, not to mention the “bread and butter” needs of the roof, plumbing, HVAC upgrades, routine maintenance etc.
    Unfortunately, his comments are only a part of the conversation “fog” which has streamed into New Bedford re this complex multi-faceted topic. There are many legitimate interests: impact on MFA students and participants in other art classes, viability of the New Bedford downtown, financial impact on UMD generally and, also, to its students, prudent use of Massachusetts taxpayer funds, private ownership interests, “promises made/promises kept” etc.
    Unfortunately the only clear vision among this “fog” is that the public decision makers, the responsible individuals who are either elected or paid as administrators to plan and make good decisions avoided an obvious coming “train crash”, did not talk to each other to find a good solution, and are now just pointing fingers at each other to assign blame. There is also a corresponding responsibility of the private interests involved (landlord) to offer possible viable compromised solutions.
    There was no reasonable excuse to allow this matter to reach the panic calendar date it did without bringing together a summit of all parties to try to work out a viable solution, rather than everyone sitting on their hands, either foolishly whining, blaming, or being silent!
    It is never too late to find good solutions. Get yourself together, lock the door, show some humility, and demonstrate your talents applied to how you can find a good compromise to move this situation forward equitably!

  15. Chancellor Fuller has tried to convince people that UMass Dartmouth has not abandoned New Bedford. While it is true that student volunteer , high school enrichment programs and SMAST are operating in New Bedford, none of these were at his initiative.

    The Chancellor’s enduring legacy will be his abandonment of New Bedford’s downtown by closing the art school. He did it In broad daylight and in full view of the public. Nothing he writes will change this.

    Moreover, in the process he has sullied the education of dozens of students by failing to provide adequate facilities for their education. And he has placed UMD in legal jeopardy as students contemplate actions to compensate their substantial losses.

    But all this raises a very important question: will New Bedford, itself, surrender the CVPA at the Star Store by not fighting for it?

    Early returns are not encouraging. Only one city official was at the Star Store rally. Since then, the Mayor has spoken, but has remained silent as of late. In deference to the Mayor he may be in the midst of negotiations thus justifying his silence .

    But city government hasn’t spoken: neither the current City Planner, Office of Community Developmen nor Office of Economic Development has uttered a word.

    The City Council, Chamber of Commerce, downtown business association and the downtown art community have all been deadly silent. They’ve acted as though the Star Store didn’t mean much to their well-being. But it did.

    As downtown revitalization’s capstone, the CVPA accelerated the downtown’s renewal and established the city’s reputation as a hip art community.

    What has been said is quite troubling: “The Star Store has served served its purpose. We should move on”

    The Star Store pumped energy, new viewpoints, imagination, inspiration, entrepreneurial spirit and optimism into the downtown on a continuous basis for a decade. Look at the result. It became the downtown’s beating heart of revival. You cannot extract a heart from a being and expect it to thrive.

    Neither can you eliminate such a source of energy and expect the downtown to continue its renewal. Existing downtown artists grow old and retire. Who will take their place? Shops and galleries will close. Murals won’t be painted. What will replace all these?

    How will the downtown cope with one of its largest buildings totally vacant?

    The Star Store CVPA, a combination of Brown University and Swain School of Design’s renowned artisan and art programs, was a downtown icon for over a decade. It upheld a long tradition of New Bedford’s world famous art achievement.

    The city, chamber, downtown businesses and the arts community best think long and hard about surrendering this iconic institution without a fight.

    The last time New Bedford had a chance to save an icon, it passed on the Charles W. Morgan. Is the city about to repeat that mistake?

  16. The public, and many people commenting here, see the CVPA as the visual arts, but it is more than the visual arts. How many students are there in music, graphic arts, visual arts, etc.? How many faculty in each area? Such research might yield some insight, but I have yet to see any reporter delve into these numbers.

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