Motley likely to put own stamp on UMass-Boston campus life

By 
Gintautas Dumcius and Patrick McGroarty
May. 22, 2007

Call it a do-over of sorts. Echoing a similar scene from nearly three years ago, Keith Motley last week returned to UMass-Boston to once again assume the chancellorship while surrounded by family and several of his mentors. This time, it's said to be permanent.

Sparing the campus another interregnum &endash; UMass-Boston has had three chief executives in the last six years - the appointment is one part of an overall restructuring of the five-campus system, as UMass President Jack Wilson plans to take over the Amherst campus and current UMass-Boston chancellor Michael Collins moves into the empty slot at UMass-Worcester. Collins will also become the system's senior vice president for life sciences.

"I'm committed to staying as long as I can to make a difference," Motley, one of the finalists in the last search for chancellor in 2004, said after a press conference last week at the UMass president's office. He noted that he has had several opportunities to leave already.

Wilson's moves have provoked uproar among some faculty and politicos on both the Amherst and Worcester campuses, with many feeling left out of the process of appointments.

But concerns over the shuffle in Boston have been subdued, with many vocally supporting Motley, a popular figure at the Columbia Point campus since he was hired away from Northeastern University by then-Chancellor Jo Ann Gora as her vice chancellor of student affairs in 2003.

"I felt that he really understood the history and traditions of this campus and the communities we serve," said James Green, a history professor at Umass-Boston's College of Public and Community Service, which has warred with both Collins and Gora.

"I think Chancellor Collins was trying to move the college in a different direction," with focus on more international and out-of-state students, he said. "It's still unclear which direction we're going to take."

"I think overall this is a very good thing for UMass and the Dorchester community," said Bill Walczak, vice chair of the campus's alumni association and CEO of the Codman Square Health Center. "The question now is what's Keith's vision for the campus?"

Juana Matias, the new student senate president, hailed Motley's appointment and said the senate is looking to work with the interim chancellor on three points: housing options, the campus's infrastructure, and maintaining affordability for students.

But some have mixed reactions, pointing to Motley having a smaller academic affairs portfolio than many chancellors and presidents traditionally tend to carry.

Some professors are concerned over whether the strategic planning process started under Collins will continue and whether Motley has the same ambitions as Collins to have Boston compete for flagship campus status with Amherst, according to one professor speaking not for attribution.

The Lowell campus's ambitions also loom: "You do have a very potent chancellor at UMass-Lowell," said Leverett Zompa, chemistry professor and a former provost, referring to the recent appointment of former US Congressman Marty Meehan.

With Wilson scheduled to meet with the faculty next week, many of those questions are sure to come up, professors say.

"We're trying to diffuse power," Wilson acknowledged to reporters last week, with UMass officials repeatedly referring to the process as a "work-in-progress."

Motley said the strategic planning process at UMass-Boston will continue as scheduled, though campus observers expect him to make his own mark on the plans.

The planning process initiated by Collins is tackling the somewhat nebulous urban mission, the declining buildings on campus (built on top of a deteriorating and closed garage), and new buildings in the form of dorms. The aim: Get the 13,000-student campus up to 15,000 by 2010. (For his part, Motley said on-campus housing can be part of the campus's urban mission.)

In one of the three subcommittee final reports put online Monday, the enrollment panel wrote: "With a number of complementary initiatives that we expect to emerge from our strategic planning process, in particular those related to new programs and projects, new academic buildings, expanded research, communication and marketing plans, student life and athletics, and student housing, we feel confident that this aggressive enrollment goal can be reached."

Board chair Tocco said the board remained fully committed to the ongoing strategic and master planning projects. "That plan is the plan," he said. "We're not going to create a wholly new foundation here."

Tocco also attempted to clarify the urban mission. "This is an urban campus, with an urban mission to link with the local economy and to community colleges here in Boston, to be an upward ladder for people who want to succeed," he said.

Another question among faculty is who among the Collins administration stays or goes. "I don't know who wants to stay on and who doesn't," Motley said. "The reality is I'm going to lead and listen."

Vice Chancellor Drew O'Brien, who spent much of the past year laying the groundwork for the new academic buildings, potential dorms, and taking down the existing structures, is headed back to U.S. Sen. John Kerry's office, reclaiming his old job as state director. O'Brien called it a "unique opportunity" to contribute to Kerry's re-election campaign. "I'm quite committed to that," he said. His last day is unclear.

Many others remain as holdovers from Gora's administration, including Provost Paul Fonteyn, who is unpopular in some areas on campus. Motley said last week he hadn't yet spoken with Fonteyn but would like him to stay on.

Other administration officials expressed a commitment to staying through another chancellor. "Are you kidding?" said Ellen O'Connor, vice chancellor of administration and finance when asked whether she was staying. "Look at how much work there is to do around here."

"We don't expect to lose any momentum," said Darrell Byers, the campus's chief fundraising official and one of Collins's first hires.

Motley said that the time he spent as a UMass vice president of business was a chance to familiarize himself with the wider system and to, "fall deeper in love with the work we're doing [at UMass-Boston]."

Collins, in his parting remarks, also described his roughly 24-month tenure at the university as a "love affair."

He assured those who gathered in the Alumni Room on Thursday that in his new role as senior vice president for health sciences, the Dorchester campus would have a strong advocate.