Three finalists announced in UMass Boston chancellor search

From left: Kathy Humphrey, Peter Lyons, and Jack Thomas. Photos from University of Pittsburgh, Georgia State University, and Western Illinois University websites.

Updated May 15, 2:46 p.m.: The search for a new chancellor at UMass Boston has been narrowed to three candidates, with UMass President Marty Meehan expected to recommend one of the names to the university system’s board of trustees in the near future.

A search committee last week identified three finalists for the position, filled since last March by interim chancellor Barry Mills: Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement and secretary of the board of trustees at the University of Pittsburgh; Peter Lyons, vice provost and dean of Perimeter College at Georgia State University; and Jack Thomas, president of Western Illinois University.

According to Meehan’s office, the candidates will independently visit UMass Boston to meet with the campus community. He will solicit feedback from their visits, then give the name of his choice for chancellor to the trustees.

“UMass Boston is an extraordinary community that deserves an extraordinary chancellor, and the search committee has selected three exceptional finalists who are capable of leading UMass Boston into the future and helping this vital institution achieve its tremendous potential,” Meehan said in a statement.

After a walk-through of UMass Boston facilities Monday, US Rep. Stephen Lynch said he and state Sen. Nick Collins, state Rep. Dan Hunt, and City Councillors Annissa Essaibi-George and Frank Baker have been invited to participate in the review process next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

There will be a portion of the interviews for each candidate designated for elected officials, Lynch said. UMass Boston is at a “turning point,” he added, noting that UMass Boston is at a “turning point” in considering how to best use its “birthright” waterfront property for the benefit of the campus.

Hunt concurred, later saying, “What UMass Boston needs now is someone that's willing to make a long-term commitment to stay, so we have continuity of leadership and someone that is able to work across the different existing stove pipes.”

The president’s office, UMass Building Authority, community groups, elected officials, and private industries nearby are paying attention, Hunt said, “All of which want to see UMass Boston succeed and live up to its full potential. So I think we all, all of the stakeholders are ready, willing and able to help whoever is the next chancellor to make UMass Boston a flagship and preserve its birthright, as the congressman said.”

“I think we want someone who understands the urban mission... one who understands the diversity of this campus and what it means to the city of Boston,” said Collins. “If there's a better steward out there, you know, we're open to it, but we think that the leadership of this university has to understand the partnership with the city, the partnership with the Legislature, the partnership with the community, and keep them to its core mission, allowing UMass Boston to grow, not selling it off.”

Although the officials did not comment directly on the prospective candidates prior to the interviews, Essaibi-George and Baker said Boston has a vested interest in the chancellorship search and the university's direction. “I just hope that the incoming chancellor and certainly the leadership over here appreciates the role that the community plays in partnership with this work,” Essaibi-George said.

The 15-member chancellor search committee, formed in October 2017 after the departure of J. Keith Motley, retained Boston-based executive recruitment firm Isaacson, Miller to assist in their effort.

Henry M. Thomas III, a UMass trustee who chaired the committee, said in a statement: “Our charge was to find strong, passionate leaders who can articulate and follow through on a vision for UMass Boston that positions the campus to carry out its mission of excellence, access, and opportunity. I believe the entire committee was impressed with the quality of the candidates who stepped forward and expressed interest in this position — and that reflects the international regard that exists for UMass Boston as well as the attractiveness of the opportunity to lead this exceptional campus community.”

The selection process narrowed the field of prospective chancellors 195 to 37 after interviews, Meehan's office said, before the committee, after a review of credentials, chose to interview ten candidates. MassLive reported last month that among the two dozen or so final round candidates was included Dorchester native and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

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