Two Suffolk groups slam board chairman
Organizations support McKenna, say Meyer must go
SUFFOLK UNIVERSITY STUDENT and alumni organizations turned up the heat on the school’s board of trustees on Thursday and sided with the school’s embattled president in the leadership controversy that has engulfed the downtown Boston campus.
The Suffolk Student Government Association approved a resolution of no confidence in the chairman of the university’s board of trustees, Andrew Meyer, and called for his resignation or removal from the board. Meanwhile, a new alumni group that formed over the last week met this morning with two members of the Suffolk board and also called for Meyer’s resignation and for President Margaret McKenna to retain her position.
The calls by the two student groups came just as the university issued a statement on Thursday afternoon saying McKenna and Meyer “have agreed upon an outline of a proposal” that will be presented jointly by them at a Friday meeting of the trustees. The statement said details of the proposal are not yet final.
Several board members, led by Meyer, signaled in recent days that they were unhappy with McKenna’s leadership and fiscal management of the university and that there were enough votes on the board to fire her at the Friday trustees meeting. McKenna, who has said she has no intention of stepping down voluntarily, would be the fifth Suffolk president to depart in five years.
“The only thing that hasn’t changed during this time is the leadership of the board of trustees,” said Colin Loiselle, president of the Suffolk Student Government Association, at a press conference. “These presidents have all come and gone, say what you will about them, but there’s obviously still a problem on campus and the only thing that is still constant is Chairman Meyer’s leadership.”
Loiselle said McKenna, who has been on the job for only seven months, had been clear from the start that she did not want to operate under the thumb of the board. “When we talked to her when she was just a candidate, the first thing she said was that if she comes on board, she’s already told the trustees, ‘you give me the keys and let me do my thing,’” he said. “And it’s clear that in the past, the board of trustees has had a huge influence on what happens on campus beyond what a traditional board of trustees should have, and President McKenna didn’t stand by that.”
Students and faculty members have complained that the board has sought to micromanage the day-to-day operations of the university.
Meyer did not return a call this afternoon.
The Globe reported this afternoon that Attorney General Maura Healey’s office plans to look into reports that the Suffolk board has failed to adopt reforms recommended in 2014 by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The oversight organization instructed the board to revise its bylaws to ensure that it was not overly involved in day-to-day management of the university.
“It’s obvious if you go anywhere on campus that we, as students, thoroughly support President McKenna,” said Loiselle. “She’s always at student activities. She’s very accessible. It’s refreshing to have a president that does care so much about students on campus, and so I think that’s why you’re seeing such tremendous support for President McKenna.”
Although the alumni were hoping to engage the two trustees in a conversation, Cain said “it wasn’t too much of a dialogue.” He said the board members said they could not respond to the alumni concerns, citing a meeting about the controversy involving other board members that was taking place at the same time.
Regan Communications has long handled Suffolk’s public relations. Julie Kahn, an executive vice president at the well-known Boston-based firm, is a Suffolk trustee. George Regan, the firm’s CEO, was named to the Suffolk board in 2008 but never took his seat after questions were raised about the propriety of him serving while his firm does work for the university.
Regan said this afternoon that Kahn oversees a division at the company that has no dealings with Suffolk.
Loiselle also criticized Regan for comments he made about the standoff between McKenna and the board. “They’re a PR firm,” said Loiselle. “They’re supposed to manage the reputation and the image of the university, and over the last week they’ve done the complete opposite,” with Regan “trashing the president.”
Regan, who spoke to the Globe’s Adrian Walker for a column in Monday’s paper, insisted in a phone conversation today that he has said “nothing inappropriate” and has not disparaged McKenna.
“Sometimes you just have to cut your losses, stop the bleeding, and move on,” Walker quoted him as saying in his Monday column. “That’s what we need to do now.”Kahn told the Globe earlier this week that McKenna’s behavior has been “disappointing.”
It is “time to change the dialogue,” Regan said this afternoon. “This whole controversy isn’t helping anything.”