Suffolk dumps McKenna and Meyer

University will wipe leadership slate clean and start over

THE SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES agreed to a plan Friday that wipes the slate clean and removes both Chairman Andrew Meyer and President Margaret McKenna.

Meyer will step down in May when his term ends. The board will then revamp its bylaws, elect a new chairman, and set up a search committee to find a permanent replacement for McKenna no later than the summer of 2017. McKenna has been on the job for just seven months. The board’s decision means the university will likely be stuck with a lame duck leader for more than a year.

Margaret McKenna

Suffolk University President Margaret McKenna: “I don’t want to speak to people’s motivations. What I do know is it was not a pleasant experience. It was pretty hurtful and pretty difficult to live through.” (Photo via Creative Commons/Flickr)

The decision was announced in a joint statement from Meyer and McKenna that said the action of the Board of Trustees was “guided by the principle of doing what is in the best interest of the institution.” The statement also described the resolution of what has been a public relations nightmare for the university as “a fair-minded plan that sets in motion a path for progress in improving the governance of Suffolk University.”

The agreement avoided an anticipated vote of the board on whether to fire McKenna.

“I don’t think the university would gain anything by bringing this issue to a vote today,” McKenna said in an interview late Friday afternoon. “There would be no winners no matter what the decision. It would have been divisive and unfortunate.”

“Even if the vote had been to keep me, just think, a good portion of the board would have said, ‘We didn’t want her stay,'” she said.

McKenna said she was incredibly heartened by the outpouring of support she received this week from Suffolk students, faculty, and alumni as well as from the broader community, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who came to her defense.

“I was absolutely overwhelmed,” she said. “I don’t even know how to express it.”

McKenna wouldn’t say whether she thought the plan by Meyer and other trustees to seek her ouster reflected a power play on the part of Boston’s “old boys network,” as some have suggested.

“Some people may have seen that,” she said. “I don’t want to speak to people’s motivations. What I do know is it was not a pleasant experience. It was pretty hurtful and pretty difficult to live through.”

Meyer and other detractors on the board raised questions in the press over the last week about McKenna’s leadership style and her fiscal oversight of the university.

McKenna, who has a background as a civil rights lawyer, said the move against her seemed to strike at “people’s sense of justice and process and basic fairness.”

“If someone’s in a job for seven months and there has been no evaluation or discussion with them, it’s difficult to say what kind of job you’ve done,” she said.

The way the decision was announced was typical of the haphazard way the university has handled its leadership crisis for more than a week. University officials announced on Thursday that Meyer and McKenna were going to present a joint proposal to the board at its meeting on Friday. But when the board gathered at the law offices of board member William Hogan on the 30th floor of One Post Office Square at 2 p.m., McKenna was a no-show.

Two hours later members of the board began to trickle out. Suffolk County District Attorney Dan
Conley, who serves on the board, said he would have no comment because the board had agreed to say nothing beyond the statement being issued by Meyer and McKenna.

The fight between the board and McKenna has consumed political circles in Boston for more than a week and prompted front-page headlines that cast the university in the worst possible light. At times it was unclear what exactly the fight was about, since some board members complained about McKenna’s personality, others grumbled about personal slights, and Meyer and several of his colleagues raised concerns about her financial oversight of the university.

Friday’s announcement, bereft of details, isn’t likely to put an end to the story, in part because McKenna’s supporters among Suffolk’s faculty and students thought they were gaining the upper hand.

An alumni group that formed to support McKenna and push for Meyer’s exit from the board expressed disappointment at today’s outcome. “While we are disappointed in today’s decision, we believe that some progress has been made towards ensuring the stability that this group seeks for Suffolk,” said a statement issued by Alumni for the Integrity of Suffolk University.

The group said Meyer’s exit and revision of the trustee bylaws should not wait until May. The group also called for the removal of the entire executive committee of the board and for an investigation of the university’s relationships with Regan Communications, the Boston firm that has long handled PR for Suffolk.

Asked whether she thought the decision would prolong the instability that has rocked Suffolk, which has had five presidents in five years, McKenna said the important thing is that the agreement to revamp the university’s bylaws and governance ensure that this is last round of upheaval at the school.

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.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“We’re changing policies and procedures. There’s going to be real transparency, and this place will be in a great shape, and then we will find someone who will be here for a very long time,” she said of the next president.

Asked what she will do next, McKenna said, she will “take a vacation.” McKenna, who previously led Lesley University and came out of retirement to take the Suffolk post said, “I will not be a university president again.”