Collins to depart, Motley take helm at UMass-Boston

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By Patrick McGroarty and Bill Forry
May. 15, 2007

Dr. Michael F. Collins will leave his post as chancellor of UMass-Boston this summer to become the interim chancellor of the UMass Medical School in Worcester. Collins, who has led the Dorchester campus for less than two years, will be replaced by Dr. J. Keith Motley, a UMass vice-president who served as UMass-Boston's interim chancellor prior to Collins's appointment.

Collins will replace Dr. Aaron Lazare, who stepped down last March as chancellor and dean of University of Massachusetts Medical School due to an illness. The appointments, announced Tuesday by UMass President Jack Wilson, must be confirmed by a vote of the university's board of trustees next month. Motley would then take over at UMass-Boston on July 1.

In announcing the moves, Wilson said that Collins's experience in life sciences and health care made him a perfect choice to take the lead at the Worcester campus. "We're thrilled to have this caliber of quality team members. We're positioning this university for greatness."

"I think Michael Collins did everything we asked him to do at UMass-Boston," said Wilson. "[He and Dr. Motley] worked very well as a team and we can now make this transition with no loss of momentum."

In a telephone interview with the Reporter yesterday, Motley said that he was "pleasantly surprised" when Wilson asked him to take the chancellorship last week. "It was an easy decision for me to say 'yes.' It's home for me. It fits all of what my life has been about."

His time spent over the last two years working as a system-wide vice-president based at UMass's downtown Boston offices has been "a wonderful experience to learn about the rest of the university," Motley said.

Collins came to the UMass-Boston campus after serving for nearly a decade as president of the Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese's Caritas Christi hospital network &endash; which includes Dorchester's Carney Hospital. A former professor of internal medicine who has taught at Tufts Medical School, Collins beat out Motley and Marvin Krislov, a vice president and general counsel at the University of Michigan, for the UMass-Boston post after a year-long search. The decision proved controversial, as prominent African-American leaders, on-campus allies, and political figures such as Mayor Tom Menino spoke out strongly in favor of Motley at the time.

Motley said he and Collins have grown to be friends in the time since Collins's appointment to chancellor in 2005.

"Michael always included us in everything he did," said Motley. "There was much said during that period that wasn't true and we found that we liked each other. He constantly acknowledged the work that we did to build community on campus. His expertise as a CEO has served that campus well and the problem-solving he has done will allow me to come back and focus on moving forward. I'm excited about what's next."

The Collins administration has won broad praise for cementing stronger ties with the Dorchester community on his watch and for boosting the profile of the Dorchester Bay campus. Last year, he enticed U.S. Senator Barak Obama to address the university's commencement. Next month, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick will deliver the keynote speech to graduates.

Collins has also positioned the Dorchester campus to revisit its growth strategies, including the possibility of student dormitories, a proposition that was all but abandoned by the university in 2003 in the face of intense community opposition. In 2006, Collins announced a new planning process for the campus that includes the possibility of building student housing. The concept, still opposed by many local activists, has been embraced on campus by the student senate.

Collins, whose political and social network runs deep in Dorchester through his Caritas connections, had been deftly aided by vice-chancellor Drew O'Brien, a former Menino aide and state director for U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, who has been a fixture at local civic events. It is not yet clear whether O'Brien &endash;- or other Collins appointees &endash; will serve under Motley.

Motley came to UMass-Boston from Northeastern University in 2003 to serve as Dean of Student Life under then-chancellor Jo Ann Gora, and quickly became a popular figure both on and off campus. He took over as interim chancellor in July 2004 when Gora left to take the presidency of Ball State University.

Local leaders said that they were surprised by the news, but generally pleased for both men.

" I'm happy for Michael Collins," said State Rep. Marty Walsh. " I think he's done a nice job here. I'm certainly thrilled for Keith Motley.

"The only thing that concerns me is that there has been a lot of turnover at the university in the last five years. I would hope that [Motley] decides to keep Drew O'Brien in place. I think that we need to keep some form of a common theme going on right now. There has been a lot of turnover, and we need to keep somebody over there that is going to be consistent."

State Senator Jack Hart said that Collins and Motley each has his unique style.

"Michael proved that he had tremendous management skills as he made that place operational," Hart said. "Keith is more a man of the people; a guy that comes from the neighborhoods, and will probably put his basketball shorts on and play in a couple pick up games not only at the university, but maybe over at Savin Hill Park as well.

"Even though he's more of a neighborhood guy, there is a tremendous amount of respect for him, and he has good management skills," said Hart.

"Chancellor Collins has led UMass-Boston through some challenging moments, but he has led with great vision and boundless enthusiasm for the school's unique urban mission," said City Council President Maureen Feeney, who added that Motley "has my full support as he takes the reins of this great university."

State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry called Motley an "excellent choice."

"I'm really happy for both of them," said Forry. "Dr. Collins and his staff did a wonderful job reaching out to the Dorchester community, and they did it with a lot of respect. Dr. Motley understands the neighborhoods, and the community aspect of the Dorchester campus, and I think people really liked him and considered him an ally."

Phil Carver, the president of the Pope's Hill Neighborhood Association who was the recipient of this year's Robert H. Quinn Award from UMass-Boston, called the shuffle a "win-win for everybody. What we as a community can be comfortable with is that UMass did the right thing. This is an example of UMass getting it right and I think the community and the university will be better for it."

Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association president Deirdre Habershaw expressed mixed feelings.

"I'm shocked. I've enjoyed working with Dr. Collins and I'll miss him. Chancellor Collins did a lot to work with the community. He came out to the clean up [in Savin Hill] recently and he's built a relationship."

Habershaw did see one possible upside to Collins's departure, however: "I could see us knocking heads on the dorm issue," she said. "Although he was being cautious in taking opinions, I think he was set that the university needs dorms on the campus. In that sense, I'm a little relieved. I hope Chancellor Motley will think differently about that issue."

Editor's note: State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry is married to Reporter Managing Editor Bill Forry. News Editor Patrick McGroarty interviewed Rep. Forry and other elected officials for this article.