Suffolk-cating presidents

Suffolk University is in a constant identity crisis. Of course, when you have five presidents in six years, that’s bound to happen. And, if the university’s board of trustees has its way, the downtown school may be making yet another change at the top. But this time, it’s not happening without a fight.

Reports began circulating last week that the board, led by its chairman, well-known attorney Andrew Meyer, was greasing the skids to oust President Margaret McKenna and replace her with former attorney general Martha Coakley. McKenna’s sin? Well, here’s where it gets murky.

Many of the leaks to the Herald and Globe cited McKenna’s decision to pare back on the school’s polling to save money and sever ties with the conservative Beacon Hill Institute. Other reports question her “abrasive” and “confrontational” administrative style and point to her unfettered use of a school credit card and the potential for a deficit in the current fiscal year.

Meyer and other trustees say the board has been bristling at McKenna’s style of excluding them from significant fiscal decisions and showing disrespect for the panel, such as taking down trustees’ portraits that had been hanging in Sargent Hall, ironically named for former president David Sargent, the first presidential domino to fall in 2010.

They cite her approval of more than $670,000 to market and sponsor Political Happy Hour sessions with the Globe, where high-profile politicians sit down for a conversation before a live audience that’s also streamed on the web. During one emergency meeting with the trustees last month, McKenna walked out to attend a Political Happy Hour with US Rep. Stephen Lynch.

“We are not potted plants,” Meyer told the Globe in defending the board’s authority to be involved in the decision-making process.

They may not be potted plants but it will be interesting to see if they wilt under pressure. For the first time in the six years of upheaval, students and faculty are fighting back. A group has started a crowdfunding site to raise money to run ads in support of McKenna and the president of the student government association, which is planning a vote of no-confidence in Meyer, is meeting with the board chairman this morning.

McKenna has not received full-throated backing from students or faculty on every decision she’s made, and some may not be sold on her style. But as longtime Suffolk professor John C. Berg writes this morning in CommonWealth, she is who everyone thought she was, and she does not sugarcoat anything or play games. She has shown a steady hand and positive vision for the university’s future, he writes, and that, more than anything, is what Suffolk needs most.

“We have seen and felt our university reeling from one strategic direction to another with sudden program cuts, mass firings of administrative staff that had no clear relation to their job performance, new strategic plans, and top-down micromanagement from the board,” he writes. “We had high expectations for McKenna, and while she has made some unpopular decisions, she has mostly lived up to them. She has listened to everyone and spoken her own mind freely.”

But this all may come too late. One report has a board member telling McKenna that Meyer has the votes to remove her. But swirling through all this is the question of why, after seven months, does the board see McKenna as underperforming and why they want to replace her with someone like Coakley, a well-known politician but someone with no education administrative background and someone who is not even an alumna?

Coakley is not the first big political name the board has pursued. They openly panted for then-UMass Lowell chancellor Marty Meehan, a Suffolk alumnus, who ended up taking the UMass president’s job, before the board turned to McKenna.

As Craig Douglas at the Boston Business Journal points out, many of the trustees are tied into the city’s legal circle, which has been a staunch supporter of Coakley, and at least eight trustees, including Meyer, have contributed thousands to Coakley’s campaigns. Among those donors is Julie Kahn of the politically wired Regan Communications, which has been the benefactor of hundreds of thousands in fees as the school’s p.r. firm.

Douglas makes the case that the move to run McKenna out on the rails is a matter of pettiness and reflects more on the trustees than it does her.

“Say what you will about Margaret McKenna,” Douglas writes, “but no college president can effectively do his or her job with two dozen overlords scrutinizing every move, especially at a flailing organization in need of a turnaround.”

–JACK SULLIVAN

 

 BEACON HILL

By the end of the year, the number of Massachusetts residents 60 and over will outnumber those 20 and under for the first time, a demographic shift that’s causing officials to rethink the kinds of services the state needs to deliver. (Standard-Times)

A Herald editorial applauds the Senate’s public records legislation, saying it’s a big improvement over the House bill, which it calls “a disappointing effort, bordering on toothless.”

The Herald also likes the boost craft brewers get in Gov. Charlie Baker’s economic development legislation unveiled last week.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A Weymouth firefighter is under investigation by town officials after residents complained about a since-deleted post on his Facebook page condemning drug addicts and the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, saying “let the shit bags die.” (Patriot Ledger)

While Yarmouth police tout their social media presence, business leaders in the town say Facebook and Twitter posts are harming tourism because they are mostly about arrests and crime and give the town a negative image. (Cape Cod Times)

Westford officials are scrambling to bring down the price of the new fire station, which is running about one-third over approved construction costs. (The Sun)

With the rise of the Internet, many predicted the fall of public libraries but they’re not dead yet. (MetroWest Daily News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

There’s a remarkable anniversary coming up at the Supreme Court: It has been 10 years since Justice Clarence Thomas asked a question from the bench. (New York Times)

At least a dozen states that launched investigations at the behest of Republicans have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing in the wake of a clandestine video that caused an uproar among conservatives. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz appear to be battling for the top spot in tonight’s Iowa Republican caucuses, as voters have their first official say of the 2016 presidential race. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in a tight race among Democrats. (Boston Globe)

“Michael who?” say New Hampshire voters when asked about would-be independent presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg. (Boston Herald)

Massachusetts pols, led by Gov. Charlie Baker, are filling their campaign coffers at a rapid clip thanks to the recent change in state law that doubled the annual allowable donations to a candidate from $500 to $1,000. (Telegram)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Microsoft is testing a new concept that could greatly reduce energy costs, titled Project Natick, by placing a large data center at the floor of the ocean to cool the supercomputer and use the ocean’s tides to generate power. (New York Times)

Massachusetts food pantries expect an influx of 50,000 people come April 1 because of the reinstatement of a suspended rule that cuts some people off of food stamps if they are able to work, even if they haven’t got a job. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Suffolk University president Margaret McKenna fires back at trustees who are out to fire her after just seven months on the job. Adrian Walker says McKenna’s biggest sin seems to have been acting like a university president, something its trustees, who have fired four presidents in five years, don’t seem to appreciate. (Boston Globe)

A new study finds the number of gay men and women is disproportionately higher in post-secondary teaching positions than in all other professions. (U.S. News & World Report)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Attorney General Maura Healey would be testing a novel legal theory if she pursues legal action against Gilead Sciences Inc. over the high cost of its hepatitis C drugs. (Boston Globe)

Could differences in maternity ward floor plans be responsible for some of the big variation in C-section rates? (WBUR)

TRANSPORTATION

New commuter rail locomotives put into service in 2014 and 2015 by the MBTA have been anything but trouble-free. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Hydroelectric companies that could ultimately compete for energy contracts are joining forces for now to push the state to pass legislation the boosts hydropower as part of the state’s energy solution. (Boston Globe)

State officials rejected for the second time a proposed site for a transfer station in Holbrook. (The Enterprise)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

East Boston teens are warned to stay away from gangbangers in the wake of Friday’s huge bust of the notorious MS-13 gang, which is said to be recruiting among high student students in Eastie and other areas. (Boston Globe)

The lawyer for man convicted of a 2010 quadruple murder in Mattapan is trying to get the state’s Supreme Judicial Court to review the case based on potential outside factors that may have influenced the jury. (Boston Herald) 

MEDIA

Conservative casino mogul and former Dorchester denizen Sheldon Adelson is firming his grip on the Las Vegas Review-Journal, ousting the publisher and bringing in Craig Moon, the former publisher of USA Today. (Poynter)