Former Bowdoin College president joins UMass-Boston staff

University of Massachusetts Boston is bringing on board former Bowdoin College president Barry Mills to serve as its deputy chancellor and chief operating officer.

Mills will oversee the academic and research program and campus operations and will work with Chancellor Keith Motley “on developing and refining long-term strategy” for the campus on the Boston Harbor waterfront, according to the university.

In an interview, Mills said he planned to take the Red Line to his new job from his home in Boston’s West End neighborhood and said he hoped to advance efforts to make sure the campus is both physically connected to the city and spiritually connected as well to the city’s many employers and institutions.

“At least initially, I want to go and really spend a lot of time and learn about the place,” he said.

In November, facing a $26 million deficit, Motley announced the “current need for substantial deficit reductions” at UMass Boston. He directed officials to begin making plans for an across-the-board 2.5 percent budget reduction, to implement a hiring freeze, and to require at least five furlough days from certain employees. Infrastructure projects and a slowdown in enrollment-related revenue amid the construction were cited as problems that were driving budget difficulties.

Mills said he hopes to help address enrollment challenges at the campus, improve graduation rates, enhance the university’s research functions, bolster post-graduation employment opportunities for students, work on campus infrastructure challenges, and make sure that students understand the opportunities available to them at UMass Boston. He said he also wants UMass Boston to be part of the city’s overall economic development.

In an interview with the Dorchester Reporter, Mills said he would be working on relations with the university’s neighbors on Columbia Point, which have at times been strained by the unprecedented growth of the campus.

“I’m very sensitive to this,” Mills said. “The college that I ran was surrounded entirely by private residences and businesses and we were one of the most important employers in that region. I entirely understand the responsibility of public institutions be responsible, important members of their community.

“There’s always going to be challenges and clearly UMass-Boston is a big economic driver, but at same time we have to be responsible and respectful of the people that live and work in that area,” he said.
Mills added that he intends to work in partnership with the campus’ long-time leader, Chancellor Motley.

“My focus is on running the entire operation of the enterprise. I will be the person responsible for academic and research program- and operations of the university,” said Mills. “This will free up Keith up to do the work he does so well, to work with me on long term strategy of the campus and go and represent and tell the message in important ways in a variety of ways. He will be able to spend time thinking about strategy and implementing it.”

“Barry’s desire to join us is indicative of his deep regard for UMass Boston and its mission - and the passion he has for unlocking the full potential in each and every student who walks through our doors,” Motley said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him in what is certain to be a fruitful and productive partnership.” In an email to students, Motley said Mills would be “my partner in leadership” and that his appointment is effective immediately.

UMass President Marty Meehan called Mills “one of the nation’s preeminent higher education leaders.”
Mills was born in Providence, R.I. and grew up in Warwick, R.I. He graduated from Bowdoin in 1972 with a double major in biochemistry and government, and earned his doctorate in biology in 1976 at Syracuse University and a law degree in 1979 from the Columbia University School of Law.

His legal career spanned 25 years in New York City, where he was a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton and concentrated on real estate and corporate law and finance. In 2001, he became president of Bowdoin.

Mills is married to Karen Gordon Mills, who grew up in Wellesley and from 2009 until 2013 was the administrator of the Small Business Administration in the Obama administration. Gordon Mills is now a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School. They have been living in Boston for about 15 months.

As president of the Maine college for 14 years, Mills helped increase Bowdoin’s endowment from $470 million to almost $1.4 billion, replaced student loans with grants for all students receiving financial aid, and increased minority enrollment from 14 percent in 2001 to 33 percent in 2015, according to UMass Boston. Mills was named president emeritus after leaving Bowdoin in 2015.