Committee: Mount Ida Students, Staff Faced ‘major Lack of Communication’ on Sale
BOSTON -- The controversial acquisition of Mount Ida College by the University of Massachusetts Amherst revealed “gaps in oversight” of higher education institutions and their finances, according to a review by lawmakers who are calling for stronger reporting requirements.
The Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight looked into the deal and on Tuesday released its report, which concluded Mount Ida students and faculty experienced a “major lack of communication” from officials at the now-closed Newton school “at every phase of its decline.”
The committee, chaired by Newburyport Democrat Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, recommended that state budget conferees include in their fiscal 2019 spending plan Senate-backed language, based on an amendment filed by Sen. Nick Collins, that would require all colleges and universities to report to the Department of Higher Education upon learning they may close, merge, or are in financial trouble.
O’Connor Ives called that recommendation “one of the most important.”
The report also recommended creation of a mitigation fund to support “Mount Ida students, parents and faculty who were financially harmed” by the closure, a step O’Connor Ives said would require legislative action.
But she said lawmakers should not seed the fund, and any money allocated to it should instead come from any financial settlements resulting from Attorney General Maura Healey’s ongoing investigations of Mount Ida officials.
“It shouldn’t be the taxpayers that foot the bill for their mismanagement,” O’Connor Ives said. “It really should be the leadership from Mount Ida, and they should be held accountable, and they should be the ones who really have the responsibility and the accountability that’s been absent all this time.”
Healey’s office in May said it would investigate Mount Ida’s senior administrators and board of trustees to determine whether they violated their fiduciary duties in addressing the college’s financial condition and in carrying out its educational mission.
The committee plans to send written questions to Mount Ida officials who did not testify at its May 16 hearing. If the officials do not respond or respond inadequately, O’Connor Ives said, the committee could “proceed with the next tools in our toolkit, namely subpoenas.”
She identified Mount Ida President Barry Brown and chief financial officer Jason Potts as two people the committee would like to question, but said that was not an exhaustive list.
Sen. Michael Moore, who serves on the post audit committee and also co-chairs the Higher Education Committee, said students were “left hanging” by the school’s closure and said it was “sad that all the stakeholders did not come forward” with information that would allow the committee to delve more deeply into issues important to students.
Calling Mount Ida’s veterinary technician program “a leader in the nation” and “an asset to the Commonwealth’s educational offerings and economy,” the report recommended that program be permanently maintained, without a gap in instruction.
The Massachusetts Veterinary Technician Association on Thursday said it “strongly supports” the concept of permanent continuation of the program by UMass Amherst.
“Mount Ida’s Veterinary Technician program is a highly-respected STEM program, comprised predominantly of women,” the association said in a statement. “Rightfully proud that it graduates more students in STEM fields than any other college in the state, UMass Amherst would only benefit by agreeing now to permanently continue this program.