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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Tocco Bandito

Courtes of Mass Board of Higher Ed.

Courtes of Mass Board of Higher Ed.

Eighty minutes of intense debate erupted at last Thursday’s University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees’ meeting. The fighting escalated in response to an unprecedented move by Governor Mitt Romney to reorganize the board, thus promoting Steve Tocco from Chairman of the State Board of Higher Education to Chairman of UMass’ Board of Trustees.

Romney, who can reappoint trustees upon the completion of their five year terms, appointed six new trustees to the board on September 1, 2006. It was then that the Massachusetts governor decided to get rid of newly reelected Board Chairman James Karam, and filled the position with Tocco.

UMass-Boston Student Trustee Alex Kulenovic raises a concern regarding the bizarre process of last Thursday’s meeting.

“The situation was unusual from the start. It has never really happened in the board’s history that a guy would be reelected Chairman, which Jim Karam was in the August annual meeting. And then two weeks later, which is when the Governor makes new appointments or reappointments, he and two other committee chairs were not reappointed. So the General Council released a memo saying that Vice Chairman Karl White should assume chairmanship of the board until the next annual meeting in August, at which point they would elect new leaders.”

After an unheralded vote, Vice-Chairman White was eventually defeated after a motion was made by trustee Bob McCarthy. “Tocco did not buy the argument that Karl White should assume the role of Chair, essentially saying all along, ‘Well, there has been no Chair,'” Kulenovic stated. “And so he and a bunch of other trustees called for a special meeting of the board.”

Many criticize Tocco’s appointment as being nothing more than a way for Romney to maintain control over what takes place here at UMass. “All the complaints, including ours,” said Kulenovic, “were not about Steve Tocco himself, but that the Governor was bearing too much influence. He’s brand new, yet he’s taking over. These are the sort of things that have never happened before.”

Student Trustees from the five UMass campuses (Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, and Worcester) formed a joint statement criticizing the board’s decision to oust an already reappointed chair. The statement refers to the Board’s own mission statement “to ensure that University governance rests in the hands of the people, free from arbitrary political interference and control from either inside or outside of the institution,” but casts a doubt as to whether this recent episode’s “lack of accountability and the apparent political nature of the process may threaten this core belief and value.”

Kulenovic fears Tocco’s hurried appointment might be a sign of what’s to come, and wonders what might be intended by his inconspicuous choice of words.

“I asked some questions about what he means by this notion of the flagship campus – if you read some of Tocco’s speeches over the years you will notice he has been talking for a while about the need to define what we mean for UMass-Amherst being the flagship campus,” said Kulenovic. “My main concern is that, in this process of making UMass-Amherst the flagship campus, the other campuses are not left behind. So I asked him whether they were going to assure enough resources for capital, like the substructure. I asked him if the other campuses would be integrated through advertising. He more or less answered yes, but I am still skeptical and I am still interested in working with him to figure out what he means to do.”

Tocco reputedly helped Governor Romney in attempting to control the state University when, as chair of the Board of Higher Education, he nixed a plan for the UMass system to assume control of the Southern New England Law School in Dartmouth.