UMass professors reject president-backed candidates and demand more involvement in process
Adding to the growing signs of turmoil at UMass Boston, the school’s failed search for a new chancellor has put a spotlight on the faculty’s struggle for more representation on campus.
A search committee had named three finalists to take over as the new permanent leader of the school, but after a statement signed by 200 faculty members was sent to UMass President Martin Meehan and the board of trustees, calling the chancellor search “problematic” and denouncing the finalists as not qualified enough, all three candidates withdrew from consideration.
Marlene Kim, economics professor and faculty union president at the school, said that many faculty members felt the search process was “rushed.”
“Given the heightened problems at UMass Boston and the knowledge that someone would be picked in just a couple days when faculty had just met them and without faculty feeling involved, that contributed to the outcome,” said Kim.
A round of public interviews with the candidates in front of the UMass community occurred over three days, each session one hour long, during the final exam period.
Juan Blanco, a graduate student, said that the search was “flawed from the start.”
“It was not an open process, it didn’t invite a lot of community input from all different stakeholders — not just faculty, but students,” he said.
Blanco said that after the round of public interviews, the search committee gave the community only 24 hours to provide feedback on the candidates through an online platform. “There were letters from our deans to slow this process down. A lot of folks from the UMass Boston community felt that the process was going way too fast.”
The group of faculty attempted to push for more than two faculty members on the 15-member search committee, and in their statement, questioned the qualifications of the three candidates.
The finalists were Kathy Humphrey, a senior vice president at the University of Pittsburgh; Peter Lyons, a vice provost and dean at Georgia State University; and Jack Thomas, president of Western Illinois University. Humphrey and Thomas are African American.
“None of the final candidates have demonstrated that they are sufficiently qualified to serve as the chancellor of the only public research university in the Greater Boston area and the most diverse four-year public institution in New England,” the faculty group wrote.
Katherine Newman, senior vice president for academic affairs at UMass, will take on the role of interim chancellor, replacing Barry Mills, current interim chancellor.
“Somebody from the president’s office, it’s not going to be somebody that will make a radical change, they’re just going to follow the status quo,” said Blanco.
Over the last two years, students, faculty and staff have been actively protesting budget cuts at UMass Boston, and earlier this month, the faculty council took a vote of no confidence in Meehan and the trustees, in response to their approval of UMass Amherst acquiring the Mount Ida campus.
According to Kim, the recent events at UMass Boston stem from the school’s financial problems. “It’s a sense that UMass Boston doesn’t matter. We have never gotten the financial support we needed [from the state and UMass system] to rebuild the campus,” she said.
Kim continued, “We are the only public research university in Boston, and we should matter, and we should be helped. We are the diversity flagship and we’re proud of that.”
Blanco also said that the failed chancellor search is a symptom of a bigger problem. “This is just another instance of the board of trustees and Meehan not doing their job with us in mind,” he said. “It’s important to not look at this as an isolated incident, because it’s not.”