Meehan, UMass Boston faculty at war

All three candidates for the UMass Boston chancellor position have withdrawn their names from consideration

This story was updated with information indicating the UMass Boston Faculty Council did not make disparaging comments about the three candidates for UMass Boston chancellor.

THE FACULTY AT UMASS BOSTON, angered and threatened by the purchase of Mount Ida College in Newton by UMass Amherst, retaliated by scuttling the search for a new chancellor at their own campus.

UMass President Marty Meehan announced on Monday that all three finalists for the Boston job had withdrawn their names from consideration after a group of faculty had openly said they weren’t qualified. The three finalists were Kathy Humphrey, the senior vice chancellor for engagement and secretary of the board of trustees at the University of Pittsburgh; Peter Lyons, the vice provost and dean of Perimeter College at Georgia State University; and Jack Thomas, president of Western Illinois University.

In a letter to the UMass Boston community, Meehan said he was “mortified when the candidates’ commitment and qualifications were questioned in public forums, including the news media and social media.” He said a new search, given the way this one ended, was “untenable at this time” and announced that Katherine Newman, senior vice president for academic affairs, would fill in as chancellor for what could be a rather lengthy interim basis.

Henry Thomas, the UMass trustee who led the search, issued a biting statement critical of the UMass Boston Faculty Council. “We find it particularly appalling that a faculty council representing a majority-minority campus but lacking a single African-American member would visit such disrespect and calumny on one of the country’s few African-American sitting college presidents, a top African-American female university leader, and an academic administrator from an institution that graduates more African-Americans than any college or university in the country,” he wrote.

Heike Schotten, an associate professor of political science at UMass Boston and associate chair of the Faculty Council, said it was not the council that objected to the candidates, but an ad hoc group of 150 to 200 faculty members.

“I was really troubled by Henry Thomas’s response, mostly because it was filled with an enormous number of errors and a lot of insults and disrespect to us as a faculty,” Schotten said in a statement. “He basically accuses us of anti-black racism, all of which I find to be outrageous behavior on his part. I don’t remember Mr. Thomas once speaking to faculty, talking to us, reaching out to us, having a conversation with us.”

Schotten said African-American members of the faculty were among those who drafted the letter objecting to the three finalists.

Aaron Lecklier, associate professor of American studies and parliamentarian of the Faculty Council, said the faculty statements about the chancellor candidates did not come from the council..

Schotten and several of her colleagues said the chief objections to the search were that not enough faculty members were on the chancellor search committee (two of the 15 were faculty members) and that Meehan was trying to rush the selection through (Meehan labeled the seven-month search “an exhaustive, rigorous review”).

Reyes Coll-Tellechea, a professor in the Latin American and Iberian Studies department, said a faculty consensus emerged after a meeting on Friday “We were very honest for each other who could really, really grab the hand of the campus and push it forward, and after talking for three hours we determined that none of those candidates were that person,” she told State House News Service.

The Faculty Council did take took a vote of no confidence last week in Meehan and the university trustees for their handling of the Mount Ida purchase. It seemed as if that decision, made without consulting the UMass Boston community, may have factored in the faculty’s position on the three candidates for UMass Boston chancellor.

“Over and over again the president and the board has forced us to go to the press because they won’t speak to us,” said Zong-Guo Xia, a geography professor at UMass Boston. “We for the life of us can’t get Marty Meehan to acknowledge us as a faculty.”

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Schotten made a similar comment. “We hope this entire ordeal has conveyed to president Meehan some sense that it is in his interest to work with us,” she said.

Joe Battenfeld, a columnist for the Boston Herald, said Meehan faces the biggest test of his three-year tenure at the helm of the UMass system. “Meehan is used to nasty infighting — he was a member of Congress — but not even then did he face this level of dysfunction,” Battenfeld wrote.