Meehan, UMass Boston faculty at war

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UMass President Marty Meehan announced on Monday that all three finalists for the Boston job had withdrawn their names from consideration after a faculty group had openly said they weren’t qualified.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.

Faculty members did not back down. Heike Schotten, a political science professor who will chair the faculty council next year, said Thomas’s suggestion that “antiblack animus” motivated the group was shocking and outrageous. She and several of her colleagues said the problem was 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 same faculty council that criticized the candidates for chancellor 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.”

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.



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