Halfway through the student protest at UMass Dartmouth last Friday, state Sen. Mark Montigny’s legislative counsel Audra Riding turned toward the office of Chancellor Mark Fuller and said: “I hope they’re up there listening right now — I doubt it, but I’m gonna hope.”

It was not surprising that Chancellor Fuller did not make an appearance at the student, and dare I say it, faculty protest, where 100 or so young people, professors and supporters assembled just outside his office in one of the Dartmouth campus’ ominous brutalist buildings. Fuller has been an almost invisible presence on the College of Visual and Performing Arts issue in the two months since he abruptly, and without any warning, shut down its entire campus in New Bedford.

Mark Fuller

In just his third year in office, Fuller has managed to ruin his relationship with both Greater New Bedford and the university’s beloved inner city arts school and its supporters. The point has come where he needs to resign. Not only the CVPA students, but the region’s legislative delegation and the mayor of New Bedford have clearly lost confidence in him.

Student after student at the rally recounted what Fuller’s hasty pulling of the rug from under their New Bedford campus just two weeks before classes has done to their creative lives, as well as their academic careers.

“It was a deliberate decision made by people who do not know or care about the impact it has on us,” said Lily McGuirk,an undergraduate senior painting major who has collected nearly 5,400 signatures to “Save the Star Store” building. “It was malicious.”

So far this semester McGuirk said she has had to work in Dartmouth painting classrooms in a “grueling process” because she does not have a studio to work on her senior show, akin to a thesis. “I’m interrupted and distracted as two other classes are going on in the same room at the same time,” she said, and without access to all her materials because there is no place to put them. She was greeted by shouts in the crowd of “Not acceptable!”

UMass Dartmouth, in the wake of the closure of the Star Store, is in the process of building undergraduate studios that some say are much smaller than Star Store ones and many without natural light. Credit: Jack Spillane / The New Bedford Light

Almost half way through the semester, the university is in the process of installing undergraduate studios at the Dartmouth CVPA building but some have said they are too small and some lack the natural light of the Star Store.

Fuller and his provosts have not been moved by stories like McGuirk’s. They have steadfastly offered the students crumbs like an extension of the course-withdrawal period, rather than the tuition refund and career support that they and Sen. Montigny and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell have now joined the students in demanding.

But as Riding said, it should not have been surprising.

Fuller has not just resisted the pleas of the arts students — after all, they’re just the young minds who’ve trusted their futures to UMass Dartmouth. He’s also resisted the entreaties of Montigny, the long-term state senator who actually created the UMD campus in an urban neighborhood that doesn’t very often get to share in the bounties of higher education.

Astonishingly, public higher education has very much abandoned the urban communities of Massachusetts. And if you don’t believe me, as I’ve said before, just look at the way the university system has treated expansion and maintenance needs at UMass Boston vs. UMass Amherst this last decade.

Fuller, no doubt with the full backing of UMass President Martin Meehan, has given the back of his hand to both the sitting state senator and the mayor of one of two cities of 100,000 people which his public university sits between, and was located to serve. Oh, but it’s a research university now, goes the argument that some faculty members trying to curry favor with the administration are pushing. It just happens to be located in Dartmouth because it has to be located somewhere.

The UMass Dartmouth student rally occurred two weeks after Gov. Maura Healey, almost equally invisible on the New Bedford CVPA crisis as the university officials, had asked the chancellor to at least meet with the students.

Fuller says he’s getting to it.

Even as some of the students headed toward their mid-term exams without ever getting into a usable art studio, the chancellor still hasn’t been able to squeeze them into his schedule. But he did pop his head into a meeting last week when the painting students were informed that, like the ceramics students before them, their studios at the defunct Bed Bath & Beyond store just won’t work. Shockingly, they won’t work in a Route 6 strip-mall structure that Fuller had hurriedly ensconced them in during his rush to take advantage of an opportunity to get out of New Bedford quickly.

Much of the equipment, furniture and materials at the CVPA Star Store could not be located in the cramped quarters of the Dartmouth campus. They are being stored in 21 trailers at the site four undergraduate dormitories that were demolished last year. Credit: Jack Spillane / The New Bedford Light

For now, the students will just have to live with the fact that many of the tools of their artistic trade, formerly located in the cherished New Bedford Star Store campus, are now residing in a series of 21 storage trailers located on the vacant lot on the Dartmouth campus. It’s the lot where Massachusetts’ most forgotten branch of the state university last year demolished four moldy, 1970s-era dormitories with brown-water plumbing.

The whole thing is almost Shakespearean in the unfolding of the latest tragedy for this school that has suffered so greatly through the years at the state’s mismanagement of its university system.

Riding has been Montigny’s point person on the UMass Dartmouth debacle and over the course of the last week, she has helped piece together a lot of the missing pieces of the puzzle that led to the demise of the New Bedford arts campus.

Mark Montigny

As reported in New Bedford Light reporter Colin Hogan’s fine story on Montigny’s announcement of a state investigation, it’s a portrait of arrogance, phony cost estimates and a deep philosophical aversion to the principle that the state university in a democratic form of government should reflect the goals and values of the people who pay for it and attend it.

The missing pieces that Riding supplied helped to explain how not just once, but twice and then three times UMass Dartmouth and the state agency that oversees all public buildings failed to execute the purchase of the Star Store campus for a single dollar. I’ve attached Montigny’s timeline to this column so you can see just how long he worked to bring the New Bedford campus into UMass Dartmouth’s ownership and just how doggedly two state agencies, and in the end, the university itself, worked to avoid it.

The Montigny letters, to the UMD students at the rally and to Inspector General Jeffrey Shapiro, explain how it could happen that at the end of a 20-year lease during which Massachusetts’ government paid some $63 million to a company owned by a local developer, the state could still come up empty handed. More details, however, will have to come out when Shapiro ferrets out what went on with Fuller, developer Paul Downey, and the two mysterious state agencies at the heart of this all.

And it will come out.

Riding on Friday announced that Shapiro had pledged to start the investigation that Montigny placed in the Fiscal Year 2024 state budget.

Meanwhile, Nick Gula, president of the UMD maintainers unions, announced at the Friday rally that state Auditor Diane DiZoglio was also on board. “I talked to the state auditor and she is going to audit the university,” he told the crowd.

Asked for confirmation, DiZoglio’s office was less definitive.

“The students, faculty, and staff within the UMass Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts community have raised important issues that must be reviewed,” wrote a spokesperson. “Our team is committed to working alongside state and local leaders, leadership at UMass, and relevant stakeholders to discuss appropriate next steps.”

Ah, newly elected state officials who run on fervent platforms. They cool down so quickly.

Montigny, however, is in his own backyard with this issue and he was stronger. His letter to the students pointed out that contrary to the way Chancellor Fuller has tried to frame the narrative, the state Legislature and a series of governors have always funded the CVPA campus at the Star Store. They funded it to the tune of $2.7 million a year in recent years, not to mention an $8 million on-the-books bond for a new HVAC system and $30 million in additional bonding for whatever might need to be done. The only caveat was that the university and these two mysterious but powerful state agencies — the Division of Capital Asset Management and the UMass Building Authority — would have to buy the building for $1 (in the case of DCAMM) so that a developer (Paul Downey of Mattapoisett) who had already paid off his debt on renovating the building, and who Montigny says did little of the required maintenance, did not continue to collect the state’s largesse.

In the case of UMBA, all Montigny asked is that the agency that last year former Gov. Charlie Baker instructed to realize the transfer would continue to fight Downey to complete that transfer. Downey has tried to claim that the university missing its deadline for taking the building means it remains his unless the inspector general investigation ordered by Montigny was thwarted.

Downey, of course, spent $90,000 on lobbyists in 2022 and 2023 and in an August 4, 2023, letter to Gov. Maura Healey — just five days before she signed the state budget — tried to convince her (through the alphabet agencies) to remove Montigny’s language demanding the inspector general investigation on the lack of maintenance at the Star Store.

Montigny’s letter to the students last Friday said that he has asked Inspector General Shapiro to investigate what maintenance was, and was not done, on the building over the full 20 years of the contract.

His letter further outlines how in a 2021 letter to the senator’s staff, DCAMM estimated the structure would need $16 million as a “wild guess” based on the developer’s estimates but that by this year the university was saying the structure needed up to $75 million worth of work. Nothing in the latest estimate, of course, has ever been itemized in terms of dollars and cents.

“The total lack of transparency and responsibility from these parties needs to stop,” Montigny wrote the IG.

Like anything else in state government, it takes time to track down the doings of agencies and a university that have become so arrogant they don’t want to be tracked. But they will be tracked down.

Montigny — who I’ve sometimes criticized for being willing to take ‘No’ for an answer from the university — is nevertheless the one person who’s fought doggedly to try to reverse this misadventure. For weeks now he has said he holds out hope that discussions between the Executive Office of Administration and Finance and UMBA will still result in a UMass Dartmouth purchase of the Star Store. But as Fuller has ignored his pleas to put the closure of the New Bedford building on hold, those pleas look like a long-shot at best.

Montigny has made mistakes, in my opinion.

I understand why he did not want to earmark more money for Downey after the developer had demonstrated the ability to co-opt state government itself. But it was a mistake because it has allowed Fuller and UMD the loophole it has always wanted to exit New Bedford.

Montigny’s letter to the students was full of tough talk and his recommendations for the IG to get to the bottom of the mess. “UMass must provide student-artists with tuition reimbursement for their ill-advised and rushed exit from Star Store,” he wrote. “And UMBA must file a lawsuit if a settlement to secure the building cannot be reached within the next 30 days.”

That’s great. To a point.

If the investigation shows what I think it will, heads should roll at DCAMM and UMBA. But it will be cold comfort because the IG’s work will not be completed for months if not more than a year. The New Bedford campus may be but a memory then, no matter how much money is clawed back from Downey.

That is why our state senator and also the mayor of New Bedford need to do even more. And together for a change.

Students and faculty posed in front of the Dartmouth campus’ College of Visual and Performing Arts building at the conclusion of their protest last Friday. Credit: Jack Spillane / The New Bedford Light

The weakest part of their argument has always been this premise that the CVPA campus can only survive in New Bedford if the university wants it to. No! The university and the state agencies that back it have long ago proven they don’t want the university here. Montigny’s own timeline shows it, particularly in Fuller’s refusal to reverse the evacuation of the Star Store just after it started.

That is where this latest of the revolving door of UMD chancellors showed his true colors. He doesn’t get it.

The public universities of Massachusetts are designed to serve the state, to educate the general population of the regions, and yes, to promote economic development for the state and country. That is the whole purpose of public higher education.

Our state senator needs to enlist his fellow legislators in a full-throated discussion of what went down in New Bedford and at UMass Dartmouth, and the role of DCAMM and UMBA in it.

In the meantime, Montigny should call on Chancellor Fuller to resign. And Mayor Mitchell and the rest of the legislative delegation should back him up.

Email news and opinion columnist Jack Spillane at jspillane@newbedfordlight.org

Join the Conversation


  1. I have been a faculty member at UMD for twenty years. There has never been financial transparency from anyone in the Foster building, never mind the alphabet soup agencies.

  2. With the exception of one editorial, the Boston Globe hasn’t picked up this story and it’s disgraceful. Thank you “Light” for carrying the torch here––hopefully, New England’s largest newspaper will get its act together, but don’t hold your breath!

  3. Thanks,once,again NB light for covering the disgusting and sordid details of the UMASS sellout of CVPA STAR STORE Stealing of student tuition and lack of space and supplies .The,silence and complicity of Chancellors Fuller and Meehan is,an outrage to all students parents taxpayers,who fund this PUBLIC??? University. I know I speak for many in the,Soutcoast who want absolutely NOTHING to do w UMASS Dartmouth again politically socially or financially.They have betrayed us. But time to move on WITHOUT the state and its,secret skull and bones agencies .. for students and faculty alumni past and present supporters of the community to meet w Downey local politicians to put like SWAIN ART SCHOOL was in private local hands firmly rooted in downtown New Bedford as anchor and inspiration for arts
    ..Umass Dartmouth is in the,rear view mirror let’s look to possibilities of the future!

  4. Jack Spillane continues to pull back the curtains which hide a lurid story of how state government and its bureaucracy can thwart the aspirations of its communities and citizens.

    What started as a sad, shocking and almost unbelieveable account of mishandling precious educational assets* has morphed into a gray and depressing metaphor about the arrogance of power.

    How can a state and its educational arm abandon a city and ignore its students by ripping out the beating heart of an ascendant downtown? A beating heart that pumped energy, excitement, vision and opportunity into the downtown and it’s surrounding neighborhoods. A beating heart that elevated the cultural and entertainment attractiveness of the downtown and its waterfront. A beating heart that has surely helped to elevate the city into national prominence as a vibrant arts community.

    How can students seriously aggrieved by the university’s inaction be denied, even after two months, a mere audience with the Chancellor to express their grievances and seek just restitution? Because they don’t fit neatly into UMD’s research, business and high tech aspirations, are art students now viewed with smug disdain by administrators?

    How can the state and its university ignore, indeed, deny their role in uplifting the economics of its own Gateway City after so obviously a successful investment uplifting it?

    Jack reveals that funds for the HVAC system and other building contingencies were set aside in bond authority, facts that the university and its bureaucracy failed to mention when they repeatedly spoke of Star Store’s deteriorated condition and its strain on UMD’s budget. The financial wailings were mere rationalizations of the abandonment.

    But for $1, the art school could be thriving and open today. That’s the dollar we know is missing. But there are many more dollars to this story.

    Amazingly, one must infer that this twenty year transaction, worth tens of millions, has yet to be audited for financial and program compliance. If it has, those findings have yet to see the light of day.

    Likewise the lease is at the heart of this sad saga. We do know that the university met its financial obligations each year for twenty plus years. What other obligations were contained in that document? Repeated allegations about the absence of required maintenance makes the lease THE story yet to be told. As it is, in essence, a public document, I suspect Jack Spillane will tell it.

    * A 2016 State Audit of UMD found “The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth did not properly administer its inventory of fixed assets.”

  5. Is there a lot more to this story that isn’t being told? Wasn’t the owner of the Star Store building like Montigny’s or Rodrigues’ best friend; and wasn’t the deal that head had with UMass completely absurd? Like those hack politicians made UMass enter into this lopsided agreement for the space at star store with their friend many years ago. The deal came with some promise that the state would fund it or fund improvements… but when the state stopped funding it UMass couldn’t pay for it so they had to pull out. Roomer has it the thug politicians basically put a gun to UMDs head and said either continue to pay our buddy (the star store owner) or we will have your head. It’s too bad the kids lost an art studio but don’t let these crooks tell you it’s Fullers fault. Look at the details.

  6. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave…” Good investigation into this tangled web. However, I don’t understand how you come to decide that Chancellor Fuller should shoulder the blame. As I understand it, in the UMass system, chancellors are akin to VP’s who take direction from and answer to the University President.

  7. If owning the star store is such a great deal, why has no one in the business world offered to buy the building? If it’s such a great deal, why doesn’t the city of New Bedford take it over and do something with it? There is a ton of construction all around that area, why is no one interested? I’ll tell you why. Because It’s a bad deal and the building is not worth what it would take to fix it up.
    How come no one is talking about the landlord who made around $60 million in rent from the state in the last 20 years and now its deferred maintenance is more than the building is worth.
    Why can’t they find another tenant? Because it’s a bad deal.
    Everyone wants someone to blame, but no one has given any answers or solutions. My dad told me many years ago never present a problem without having a solution. What is your solution. Eat $70 million and let the rest of campus suffer. Have you ever been part of a team? I can tell you ever had so many people rely on you? Have you ever had to make a decision that you knew would not be popular, but you made it because it was in the best interest of the whole team? It’s easy to blame public officials because you know they can’t strike back.
    I know it’s hard to understand but Chancellor Fuller is being financially responsible. He is being financially responsible to the Taxpayers of Massachusetts, to All the students at UMass Dartmouth and to the community as a whole.
    Why would anyone write an article and say what’s another 10% or $70,000,000? I still can’t believe anyone would publish that statement. WOW.
    Chancellor Fuller is responsible for many thousands of students, faculty and staff all on a $210 million annual operation budget.
    When the STATE pulled $2.7 million from the star store, in August, (because it’s a bad deal) Chancellor Fuller had to make the hard decision to relocate the students. Again, he is being FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE. As a taxpayer in the state of Massachusetts I am grateful for a Chancellor who manages a budget and does not throw my hard-earned tax dollars down the drain.
    Thank you, Chancellor Fuller, you did the right thing.

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