Motley holds cards on UMass campus plans

He is "still in a discovery mode" when it comes to the campus strategic plan for the future, UMass-Boston's Keith Motley said, and that includes dorms.

Appointed as UMass-Boston's chancellor in June, Motley takes over the campus as Boston's only public university seeks to compete with its private counterparts, raising enrollment to 15,000 from 12,000 over the next few years.

The campus is also struggling with an estimated $600 million in deferred maintenance costs, along with a two-level substructure that had previously served as a parking garage.

A strategic planning committee made up of members from the campus community this summer released a report detailing steps the university should take towards upping enrollment, including establishing on-campus dorms, or as former Chancellor Michael Collins referred to them, "living learning communities."

Collins left for the interim post at UMass-Worcester as part of a system-wide reshuffling.

Motley plans to sit with his executive team to discuss the committee report before the campus strategic plan goes before the UMass Board of Trustees later this fall and an expected vote in December. He spent the summer catching up with what had happened on campus over the past two years, he said.

"Now I know there are people who want me to come out and be specific about this, this, this and that, okay, but at this point, just like with anybody else, I have the liberty to take the time to talk with as many folk as I need to before these deadlines happen," Motley said Tuesday, as the first day of school came to a close.

Motley must also shepherd a master planning process that will outline where the campus is going and what it will look like over the course of 25 years. That ties into Mayor Thomas Menino's master planning process for the Columbia Point peninsula, Motley says. The city has already invested $150,000 in that effort.

Next week during the campus's convocation, Motley, who expressed some relief in not having to go through the strategic planning process himself, says he will seek to reassure faculty that he isn't tossing away their work on the strategic plan.

But dorms loom large as a political pitfall for the campus. Former Chancellor Jo Ann Gora was brought in from Virginia to pitch dorms and faltered with community members before leaving for Ball State University in Indiana.

Collins, after putting dorms aside his first year, went to work laying the groundwork for on-campus residences in the form of "living learning communities."

Motley noted that Collins had said a consensus had been established on dorms.

"Among them he talked about consensus around academic buildings and living and learning centers, whatever that means," he said. "And as a result of that what I will be [looking] at what's next, I will sit down with the campus. It's important to sort of vet that out and see how we want to move forward."

He added that the process to reach that consensus also included the community. "That doesn't mean everybody agrees," he said.

But Motley balked when asked to specifically comment on dorms, saying they were part of the strategic planning process.

"I don't want our strategic plan to be limited to residence halls," he said.

Dorchester residents want to know about more than just dorms, he added, including whether there's access for youths growing up in the community, that the university is a high quality one and that its research impacts the community." So they will feel grateful to have in their midst the public university that has those things. So no, I don't ever want to limit folk to that. Because there may be a few people that's their only interest, but the majority of the folk here are interested in education, access, opportunity and all of the things that matter in wonderful educational environments.

"That's not what I get walking around Dorchester Motley added. No one has ever come up to me and said, 'The only thing I care about with the University of Massachusetts-Boston is residence halls.' No one. Even the people that you might think have that framework talk about the other things that matter to them because they understand what universities do."

The strategic planning process also includes new academic buildings, whatever plans the school will have for the Calf Pasture pump house, and its parking lots created to deal with the loss of the garage.

Motley noted that the Campus Center took about 20 years to get built, evolving into a far different building from original plans as a student-focused building. "It turned into everything, because we were so glad to have a building… it's like a one-stop shopping building," he said. "My goal is to never have that happen on campus again, that you have to wait that long for something."

But a garage to permanently replace the substructure is on hold until after the master planning, said Motley.

"To put something somewhere that would hinder us from doing something in the future, like a garage. [You] can't really move that or change that, so it's important to plan. Plus, we're good neighbors," he said, pointing to the need to think of how the garage will benefit Boston College High School and the John F. Kennedy Library, among the university's other Columbia Point neighbors.

"I'm not a strategic planner or a master planner, but I would tell you one thing I would hope: that whatever we do, that it doesn't look inward anymore, it looks outward, like the Campus Center does," he said.

"I think that's the transition for this campus," he said, pointing to hopes to grow research to $50 million, take part in Governor Deval Patrick's $1 billion life sciences initiative, and grow the number of faculty back to original numbers. The campus has gained 100 new teachers over the past four years. "We want to get 100 more if we can," he said.

Motley also said he wants an "ethic of care" to persist throughout university. "I want people to feel like they walk on this campus, that they're feel welcome, that they're going to be taught, that there is a caring spirit here that's concerned with their development, above and beyond all of those other things and when they're with us, it's all going to be at the end of the day okay," he said. "That's it for me. And the rest of the stuff starts filling itself in."