Motley Adds His Own ‘R’: ‘Renewal’

Chancellor Keith Motley embraces Carol Hardy Fanta, director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, after his convocation speech. Motley´s mother is pictured in the foreground.

Chancellor Keith Motley embraces Carol Hardy Fanta, director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, after his convocation speech. Motley´s mother is pictured in the foreground.

Gintautas Dumcius

In his first major address to the university community since his appointment as interim chancellor, Dr. J. Keith Motley showcased both his administration’s plans for the new school year and his personality.

While vowing to focus on ex-Chancellor Jo Ann Gora’s three R’s, (widely known as retention, reputation, and research, created as part of the university’s strategic plan before she left for Indiana’s Ball State University), Motley added his own. “My ‘R’ is going to be ‘renewal,'” he said last week at the convocation speech in the Campus Center ballroom.

Beyond laying out the upcoming year, Motley added much of himself to the mix. In the nearly half-hour long, high-intensity speech, Motley offered anecdotes to show his personal side, telling of how his family keeps him grounded, and of a fishing trip several weeks ago with Provost Paul Fonteyn.

“This has been a wonderful personal journey for me,” he said of his selection as interim chancellor. Motley was dean of student services at Northeastern University before coming to UMass as vice chancellor of student affairs last September.

One of the first things to get mentioned was the union contract issue, in which 400 of UMass Boston’s lowest-paid workers have gone on for three years with an un-funded contract. Motley recalled getting a phone call from UMass President Jack Wilson at 11p.m., after the July press conference where Wilson announced Motley as interim chancellor. Motley remembered Wilson saying, “Man, we’ve got to do something about the contract.”

“I may be chancellor now, but I know we’re all in this together,” Motley told the large audience of students, staff, faculty, and administrators, adding that he had invited the union to speak at a recent executive staff meeting.

Motley called upon the university to build one community, as he sought to show that the administration under him is working as one team. “We must see ourselves as one university community,” he said.

In what may have been a nod to his former place of employment, Motley appeared to pull a page out of Northeastern University’s book by having two top university officials, Provost Fonteyn and Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Ellen O’Connor, speak before him, in an apparent effort to convey that his chancellorship will not be about one person. Later, Motley also had Fonteyn and other senior administration officials help raffle away free tuition, a semester parking pass, and campus bookstore gift certificates, as part of the day-long Fest-of-Us for students.

Joking about how crazy it got several weeks ago when O’Connor left for a week’s vacation, Motley recounted saying, “Tell them I am not spending nothing until Ellen gets back!” The crowd roared with laughter.

But Motley would also turn both fiery and serious.

“If we’re not thinking about the students, we’ve lost sight of our mission,” he said, adding later, “We must continue to believe in the unlimited potential of our students.”

The urban mission is “key,” he said, since the university serves Massachusetts “in ways no other university does.” The university’s urban mission is a source of some debate, with Motley heading up a committee seeking to define it.

Motley warned against “sniping” and “making little kingdoms,” chastening those who do not think of UMass Boston as a world-class university. Motley, who by the end of the day had nearly lost his usual booming voice, later said he was speaking in general. “I was saying we don’t need that kind of culture,” he said. “Everyone has a clean slate. I don’t know what happened before. I don’t want to know. All I know is that here are the ground rules. Let’s work together. Let’s share. Let’s not build kingdoms that don’t include other folk.” “Now is the time to come together,” he said in the speech. “Now is not the time to complain.”

Motley repeated the line when speaking in front of students in the afternoon.

“They say we don’t have a student life. I say that’s not right,” he said on the Campus Center’s first floor plaza, as students milled around outside, eating pizza and watching student bands play.

Some faculty reportedly seemed to feel better after the morning’s speech, where Motley spoke of access and excellence not being mutually exclusive, and uttered his embrace of Gora’s three R’s. After his appointment, some faculty had concerns due to their unfamiliarity with Motley, who came from Student Affairs and remains popular among students. Another source of reassurance to some was Motley’s note in the speech on Provost Fonteyn as his “partner in all academic decisions.” Motley then paused for a moment, and said it again. “He is my partner in all academic decisions.”

Others pointed to the speech as showing the many different facets of his character, rating it a good introduction of himself to faculty old and new. The overall praise was close to unanimous.

“It’s the exact message the university needs,” said Lilliana Mickle, director of admissions, of his comments on students and his call for one university community.

“The word I used around here was ‘masterful.’ It was a masterful speech,” said Terry MacLarney, undergraduate chair at the College of Public and Community Service. “It addressed some very serious campus issues in a way which I think bodes well for the future of the campus.”

“I thought that he hit on a number of important points that were right on, such as the need to come together as one community, the destructiveness of whining and complaining outside the university and how that can hurt, and has hurt all of us,” said Steven Schwartz, Psychology Department chair at the College of Liberal Arts. “Most people I talked to were favorably impressed.”