Suárez-Orozco named UMass Boston chancellor

Second search reaches elusive consensus on campus


WITH A UNANIMOUS VOTE of the University of Massachusetts trustees, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco on Monday became the new chancellor of UMass Boston.

UMass President Marty Meehan said the vote, through one lens, marked “the completion of a journey that began more than four decades ago, when two parents, in what must have been a wrenching decision, gave their 17-year-old son an airplane ticket and sent him off to America to flee Argentina’s gathering storm clouds of terror.”

It also marked the end to a winding and at times rocky road to find new leadership for the Dorchester campus. The search that resulted in the selection of Suárez-Orozco as the lone finalist began in August of 2019, about 15 months after a previous attempt fell apart when all three finalists withdrew from consideration after visiting the campus. UMass officials praised the process followed in the second search.

This time around, Meehan told reporters, more students, faculty, deans and alumni from UMass Boston were involved in the search process. A faculty member — psychology professor Jean Rhodes — served as the vice chair of the committee.

“I think over a period of time when any university goes through difficult times, it’s a lot of listening,” Meehan said after the vote. “It’s important, I think, basically getting a fundamental understanding of what expectations were on the part of faculty, on the part of the deans and on the part of trustees and students.”

Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Manning said UMass Boston “is in a much better spot today than it was during the first search,” pointing to budgeting decisions under Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman, the potential for $235 million in new revenue through a deal to develop the school’s former Bayside Expo Center site, and a project to fix the campus’ crumbling original substructure.

“The new chancellor coming in, Marcelo, he’s going to hit the ground running and have a foundation that’s in much better shape than it was a few years ago,” Manning said.

Suárez-Orozco’s salary and start date have not yet been set, according to Meehan’s office. Newman currently earns an annual rate of $280,000.

Suárez-Orozco will come to UMass Boston from the University of California Los Angeles, where he leads two departments, 16 research institutes, and two demonstration schools as the Wasserman Dean of Education and Information Studies.

On a damp, cloudy afternoon with temperatures in the low 40s, he joked that the weather is part of what drew him to Boston from southern California, where, he said, “you get sick of” the warm and sunny climate.

“It is an excellent university,” he said of UMass Boston. “And we shall endeavor, together with a marvelous faculty and staff, to take it to the next level of excellence, of relevance, of importance for the city and for the commonwealth moving forward.”

Suárez-Orozco, whose parents were public school teachers, emigrated from Argentina as a teenager, speaking only Spanish. He attended community college, worked odd jobs — including stints as a janitor, pumping gas and fixing cars — and transferred to the University of California Berkeley, where he would eventually earn a doctorate in anthropology.

He has worked in the Boston area before, as a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education from 1995 through 2004 and before that for several years as a faculty associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He has also taught at New York University and the University of California San Diego.

Newman and Suárez-Orozco both earned their doctoral degrees from the same department at UC Berkeley, seven years apart. She said she lived close to Suárez-Orozco and his wife Carola while both families were in Princeton, New Jersey years ago.

“I have known both the Suárez-Orozcos for a long time, and I know just what an extraordinary contribution they both will make to UMass Boston, which is a very special place, full of immigrants just like Marcelo who are striving to find a better place in the world and for whom the university is the key to their future,” Newman said.

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Kush Patel, a student trustee who is studying political science at UMass Boston, said students he’s talked to appreciate their new chancellor’s background and that many left a question-and-answer session with Suárez-Orozco believing that he’s the right fit.

“This campus is looking for a chancellor that will prioritize the student agenda, a home for all types of students,” Patel said.