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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

Gora Speaks On …

The buzz on campus about the new UMass Boston Chancellor, Jo Ann Gora, has been notably positive. The chancellor was seen mingling with students in the McCormack lobby on the first day of classes. She’s been to the Student Senate office to talk informally with them. And she’s been to the Wit’s End for a cup of coffee (where the courtyard was given a long-awaited sprucing-up by the Facilities Department the day after her visit).

Gora granted the Mass Media an interview (minus any handlers) shortly after arriving on campus. She has also taken a half-page in the paper every week (A Message from the Chancellor, top of page 5) to maintain a dialogue with students on UMB community issues.

“Our fundamental commitment is to undergraduate education. That’s actually a very strong statement. That’s as strong a statement as saying ‘I’m for dorms.’ When I say our fundamental commitment is to undergraduate programs, that is true. If we do not have the funds to mount strong graduate programs, then we’ll have to cut back on those programs,” explained Gora, in response to a question about how some perceive that there has been an increased emphasis on graduate programs at UMB, at the expense of undergraduate programs. “I want this institution to be known for the quality of the education it offers to the citizens of Massachusetts and Boston in particular. If we don’t have the resources to support strong graduate programs, then we shouldn’t be offering them.”

One of Gora’s reported strengths at Old Dominion University [where she served as provost for nine years] was the ability to foster a strong relationship between the local community and the university, what she referred to as a “town/gown” relationship.

“I had asked my office during my first month on campus to set up meetings with all the local community associations and also all the local legislators and community leaders, and they have done that. I’ve spent some time with Speaker Finneran and I’m spending time with the heads of the local community associations in the coming weeks to sit down face to face and learn what their issues are and what their concerns are, to try to make sure we started out on a good footing with them…I want to make sure that the university is a good neighbor. I’m trying to address the community concerns by first establishing a good relationship with the community and by helping them understand what the university needs to grow, but making sure they’re partners with us, that they don’t feel we’re growing at their expense.”

Gora said she was unfamiliar with the controversy in the local Southeast Asian community around UMB’s decision to hire a Chinese professor to teach “Southeast Asians in America .” She did say, “We have to make hiring decisions based on faculty expertise and based on the programs we are going to offer. The community can offer advice, they can offer suggestions, but they can’t really have the determining vote in terms of who we hire here as a faculty member, unless of course they would like to fund a position. I’m serious. If they would like to fund a position, and this has been done at other institutions for a person of a certain ethnic background to teach a specific range of courses, we could certainly entertain that proposal. To tell us we need to hire someone of a certain ethnic background, I might take exception to that.”

She went on to explain that the Filipino community funded such a position at Old Dominion. “We opened a Filipino American Center. We did it after we got a donation of $500,000 from the Filipino community. It paid for the renovations of a building that was on campus and it paid to support faculty members.”

Elaborating on community relations, Gora said, “Other things we did with the community was an extensive outreach in terms of economic development and that’s the kind of activity I think is really, really important for the university to undertake. UMass has its variations of this. At Old Dominion we had an engineering school and we had a business school that did a lot in terms of small business support. Here at UMass we provide a lot of support to small businesses through our College of Management. We have the Massachusetts Manufacturing Center and Small Business Development Center but we also have here a wide range of institutes and centers that provide extensive research and analysis that guide policy formation in the Greater Boston area. We try to relate to the community in ways our intellectual expertise can really make a difference.”

She also mentioned the Folk Festival and “the work that Charlie Titus has done” as examples of the “town/gown” relationship. “Of all the universities in the country, we entertain and educate and provide the recreational opportunities for more students. We’re number one in the country and I think that shows what a welcoming community we are to the neighborhood in a way that’s very meaningful for them.”

On complaints about the delivery of services to students, Gora commented, “If we have customer service issues, I want to know about that. Now it’s hard, it’s hard in an urban institution where you don’t have a small residential population. We have a lot of students, a lot of part-time students. It’s not an easy job they’ve got. But customer service is incredibly important and if there are problems, I want to know about them and we will try to address them.”

Asked about her experience at the Wit’s End, Gora said, “I thought the coffee was good and I enjoyed the Wit’s End. It was clean, it was friendly, the lighting was good. I did not like the appearance of the courtyard and I’ve communicated that to the folks who need to do something about it.”

In response to a final question about what would she like to have listed as her accomplishments at the university during her first year, Gora stated, “What I hope to have accomplished within a year is greater respect and admiration for the university and for what we do here. Greater visibility for all the fine people and fine work that comes out of this university and a greater sense of pride of people on campus for how the university looks and how it functions. I believe that administrators need to be problem solvers, to be people who are good at identifying problems and solving problems. And that’s my job as much as it is anybody’s job here. It’s to be the spokesperson for the university and to try and make sure things work for the students.”

(Correction: In last week’s story on Chancellor Gora, the line “I know it affects everyone’s morals” should read “I know it affects everyone’s morale.”)