UMass Boston faculty willing to work with interim leader "as much as possible"

The decision of the three University of Massachusetts Boston chancellor finalists to drop out of the search came after a university-wide meeting where more than 200 faculty members decided none of the candidates were the right fit, according to one faculty council member.

Reyes Coll-Tellechea, a professor in the Latin American and Iberian Studies department, said the faculty held a "huge meeting" on Friday and discussed the pros and cons of the finalists, whom she called "fine professionals" who "genuinely wanted to come to UMass Boston."

"We were very honest for each other who could really, really grab the hand of the campus and push it forward, and after talking for three hours, we determined that none of those candidates were that person," Coll-Tellechea told the News Service.

UMass President Marty Meehan announced Monday that the three finalists -- Kathy Humphrey of the University of Pittsburgh, Peter Lyons of Perimeter College at Georgia State University, and Jack Thomas of Western Illinois University -- had withdrawn from consideration, a move he attributed to the trio's "extreme disappointment" with actions of the UMass Boston Faculty Council.

Meehan said the council had "decided to take their dissatisfaction with the candidates public, questioning the personal and professional qualifications of three accomplished higher education leaders and demonstrating that the faculty council would not participate in the kind of partnership necessary for a new chancellor to succeed."

He also announced that Katherine Newman, senior vice president for academic affairs at UMass, would serve as the school's next interim chancellor.

Coll-Tellechea said the first step for UMass Boston will be to work with Newman "as much as possible."

"I think the major issue at UMass Boston right now is the relationship with President Meehan and the Board of Trustees is broken," she said. "We do not trust them, so maybe this person can repair that trust."

Coll-Tellechea said she hopes a future chancellor search has a "dialogue of inclusion," and knocked Meehan for the process used in the first search.

"The first time he engaged with the faculty has been now, with this furious letter," she said.

Chaired by UMass trustee Henry Thomas, the 15-member search committee included two faculty representatives and one student representative, along with UMass Boston alumni, community and labor representatives, and officials from the UMass system.

Thomas said in a statement that the panel worked with a search firm and consultant to consider nearly 200 candidates for the post and narrowed the field to three candidates "who each demonstrated clear leadership skills, unique talents, and a passion for UMass Boston's mission." The three finalists visited campus last week, and Thomas said a "small but vocal group of members of the UMass Boston community" publicly criticized the candidates.

"The unprofessional conduct of a small segment of the UMass Boston community is unconscionable and disrespectful and the misrepresentation of the candidates' qualifications and capabilities is nothing less than shameful and mean spirited," he wrote. "This petulant behavior will inflict long-lasting damage on UMass Boston's reputation and future ability to recruit the academic and administrative leaders we need at UMass Boston."

In the next chancellor, Coll-Tellechea said faculty wants to see someone with "outstanding, outstanding" managerial skills who knows Massachusetts and its politics well, and has high-level administrative experience at a similar institution.

"The new chancellor ideally would be able to come to Massachusetts and confront a very difficult situation with the UMass president's office on behalf of the UMass Boston campus," she said.

In his letter to the UMass Boston community on Monday, Meehan said reopening the search process now would be a "futile exercise," in part because "the very public way this search came to an end, with three finalists all withdrawing in the face of public opposition from members of the campus, renders a new search untenable at this time."


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