To UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark Fuller.
As a UMass Dartmouth CVPA alum (who is partnered with a CVPA MFA alum), I’ve been wanting to write to you regarding my thoughts on how the administration has been handling the situation with the Star Store. Given your recent open letter, I thought it was about time. I wished I could say I was reassured, but I am less convinced than ever that you truly understand what you’ve done.
With every layer of the political onion that gets peeled back, and the more I talk with those affected, I can’t feel anything but disgust. Chancellor, you are not taking care of your student body, staff, or your community, let alone are you fighting for them.
You’ve accepted tuition with one hand, taken away crucial facilities with the other, and left everyone with a laughably ironic (temporary) simulacrum in a defunct retail space. This is not a “disruption,” it is a devastating derailment.
And no, you did not disappoint “everyone who enjoys the vibrant downtown New Bedford arts community.” You’ve torpedoed the hard-won, 20-year progress that was catalyzed by the CVPA with its students, faculty, supporting community and alums. No other school of the university could have brought that vibrancy and life, and it cannot be replaced (you left that part out of your letter). This is not a “disappointment,” it is a decimation, and it will not be forgotten.
Your administration has gravely injured the CVPA program and has demonstrated itself to be nothing but a bad-faith actor when it comes to fulfilling all that was promised to its students. Hanlon’s Razor states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” (I’ll even be generous and supplant “incompetence” for “stupidity,” that feels more accurate.) So when it came to shuttering an entire campus building, mere weeks before classes, leaving students, staff, and faculty frayed and scrambling; derailing degrees and delaying careers; and wiping out a critical cultural anchor to an entire downtown, which was the cause? Malice? Or incompetence? Or is it a “yes, and” situation? I do find it hard to believe that incompetence to this level is by accident.
Do you even know what goes on in these programs that you’ve effectively killed? Because while you say that you are not doing away with them, you certainly had very little to say about their importance as a whole besides a bland administrative talking-point. Beyond enrollment numbers and its contribution to “sustaining strong graduate programs,” what is your grasp of the artist’s role in the wider community?
Presumably you do understand the effects of angry blowback (and perhaps how creative artists can be when backed into a corner), hence your open, albeit generic letter. So what makes you think this entire debacle will dissipate, and won’t have a noticeable ripple effect? Your treatment of the students is known. Your flippant reception of their very real concerns is spreading. And you’ve obliterated any trust that your community may have had in you. Oh, the damage you have done … (good luck with those recruitment numbers, sir).
And can you honestly say that the BB&B solution was anything more than a half-assed Band-Aid? I mean, literally every department has its own safety protocol and associated ventilation needs. Every department has specific material handling and storage requirements. And every building has specific zoning and permitting regulations. How could none of that cross your mind?
Now, two months (plus) since the eviction and well into the fall semester, and the students have nothing. How can you possibly reconcile what they’ve paid for with what you are trying to pan off as sufficient work spaces and support? Is it that hard to admit that no, a last-minute phone call and six additional weeks is not, in fact, sufficient time to break a lease, reapply elsewhere, move, and (some with additional visa complications) start over? And that no, some students can’t just sit tight and defer their enrollment until you get your act together? Is it that hard to admit that the help you are offering is not what has been asked for, and therefore negates said actions as actual help? Is it that hard to admit that your administration really, really, REALLY messed up? And that you now need to eat a whole lot of crow, and make things right? I suppose it is. Dante didn’t put thieves and crooked politicians in the ninth ring of hell for no reason … y’all do love to double down on your mistakes.
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So with that, and to save us all from a comically long screed of … “and another thing!” I will leave you with this, a short prayer (of sorts) — the best wishes I can muster for you during this difficult time.
“This is the cathedral in which your cowardice has been enshrined. The silence at the pulpit is the silence we heard when you did not answer cries for help. In the eaves of this holy place are the festooned remnants of the friends you did not come to assist. […] Here is the sanctuary of your lost chances. There is no pastor, no choir, no stewards, no supplicants — it is a congregation of one. You will worship here all the remaining years of your life, and at night your spirit will kneel in broken glass in the pews.” — From “The Silence” by Harlan Ellison.
Do the right thing, Chancellor Fuller. Listen, and offer help as it is asked, by those who have been most impacted.
Kimberly Gatesman of Swansea is a 2005 UMass Dartmouth CVPA graduate who has spent 20 years in the South Coast arts community/economy. She wrote this as a personal letter to UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Mark Fuller, but did not hear back and asked The Light to publish it in Community Voices.