Strangeness continues at Suffolk

Board refuses to say why it fired McKenna

THE SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY board of trustees waited a full day before commenting on the firing of president Margaret McKenna, and then said almost nothing.

Robert Lamb, the chairman of the board, issued a one-paragraph statement at nearly 5:30 p.m. on Friday saying he could not comment on personnel matters. However, he described the statement McKenna issued after being fired on Thursday as “misleading at best. We strongly reject any characterization by her that the board was not addressing governance matters. It is unfortunate that we were not able to reach an amiable resolution with our former president, but it is now time for Suffolk University to move forward.”

The reference to an amiable resolution is odd, since the board voted unanimously to fire her at a meeting on Thursday.

Even more strange was how Lamb told the Suffolk University community about McKenna’s dismissal. In a letter sent out at 6:47 p.m. on Thursday, he said: “Margaret McKenna is no longer serving as president. The board of trustees thanks her for her service and has named Provost Marisa Kelly to serve as the acting president.”

There was no other explanation for the abrupt change in command, even though the school had nearly fired her earlier in the year and kept her on only after faculty and students rallied to her cause, which led to an agreement that she stay until 2017.

In her statement, McKenna said she was given three reasons why she was terminated for cause: “inadequate communication regarding NEASC to the board; providing certain information to NEASC, including the letter written buy the Faculty Senate; and my participation in a meeting with the Boston Globe editorial board after the Feb. 5 agreement was announced.” NEASC stands for New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Sources close to the board say a report by an outside attorney provided all the evidence the trustees needed to dismiss McKenna, but so far, presumably for legal reasons, the trustees have chosen not to share that evidence with students, faculty, and alumni.

Below is the statement of McKenna:

I came to Suffolk University with an open heart and a plan for reform. I fought a good fight against entrenched interests and a board that did not understand university governance, as evidenced by a revolving door of now six Presidents in as many years.

In February, I made an agreement with the board that I believed served the interests of Suffolk University, its students and its faculty, the basis of which was a condition that I remain as president until a new president was found. In this way the university would have the benefit of a stable transition in leadership, which I believed was essential given its recent history. Sadly, the forces that have been at work since the inception of my presidency have continued through these months to undermine that agreement.

In response to allegations in a demand letter sent by George Regan, subsequent to his termination as a vendor, the board authorized an intensive and extremely costly investigation. The investigation found absolutely no evidence of any financial misconduct of any kind. During today’s meeting, there was no mention of substantive findings relating to Regan’s allegations.

Meet the Author

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.

There were three reasons given for the termination for cause:  Inadequate communication regarding NEASC to the board; providing certain information to NEASC, including the letter written by the Faculty Senate; and my participation in a meeting with the Boston Globe editorial board after the February 5th agreement was announced.

I believe this termination is unfair and, in pursuit of the truth, I plan to pursue a mediation process.

The last six months have been among the most difficult of my professional life.  I have been disheartened by the violations of basic process and the negative impact on the truly outstanding Suffolk academic community. Suffolk University most assuredly deserves better.