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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A crisis of confidence in UMass president

University of Massachusetts Chancellors, from Left to Right: J. Keith Motley of Boston, Michael F. Collins of Worcester, Jean F. MacCormack of Dartmouth, System President Jack Wilson, Marty Meehan of Lowell, and Thomas W. Cole, Jr. of Amherst

The UMass school system, with its five independent campuses, was in what the media described as an “uproar” over system President Jack Wilson’s reorganization of higher faculty members, part of a plan which has been referred to as his “vision of one university.”

“The phrase ‘one university’ has become a flashpoint for the media,” Libby DeVecchi, communications director of the president’s office, said. “Wilson speaks on fostering more collaboration between the campuses, and between other schools and UMass. Recent history at UMass and other universities proves collaboration provides enhanced resources, opportunities, and enhances the UMass degree.”

The Boston Globe ran an article titled “Job shuffle, streamlining at UMass” on May 16, regarding Wilson’s plan to alter leadership among the campuses.

“Wilson had a draft document for discussion and used the ‘one university’ term,” DeVecchi said. “Really, it was to show the need for more collaboration between the five universities, and that it’s important to provide these additional opportunities and greater resources for faculty and students.”

The first act in what is known as Wilson’s plan included moving Michael Collins from his position as UMass Boston chancellor, to interim chancellor of the Medical School in Worcester and making him the UMass senior vice president overseeing research and commercial development. Replacing Collins is Keith Motley, who was interim chancellor two years ago when UMass Boston was in the midst of a search for the next chancellor.

At UMass Amherst, Chancellor John Lombardi was slated to retire in a year, take a hiatus and come back as a professor. However, he has since resigned from his position and is taking the role of president of Louisiana State University in September.

“There are really two things involved,” DeVecchi said. “The leadership appointments, Dr. Michael Collins and Dr. Keith Motley, who were approved on June 21, and in August, it was announced that Dr. Thomas Cole would be interim chancellor at UMass Amherst.

“The purpose of the changes is to enhance our leadership team so that the system can achieve a shared vision of excellence.”

Before the Globe’s May 16 article ran, the plans had not been discussed with the faculty members of the five campuses. This prompted UMass trustee John A. Anderson to resign from his position, as he said that he was “left out of the decision,” and was opposed to the changes.

“[Wilson] acknowledge[s] that the conversation got started the wrong way,” DeVecchi said. “But, it got started at the right time, and it’s the right conversation. It’s the right time for our institutions. You can never consult or communicate enough. We have learned that.”

Faculty at UMass Amherst cast a vote of no confidence in Wilson and the board of trustees on May 24. The vote, which passed 214 to 1, “specifically criticized Wilson and the trustees” for ousting Lombardi and “for discussing […] changes in a secret meeting and for not consulting professors on various leadership changes,” according to a May 25 article in the Globe.

Within some of the Globe articles printed, the faculty at UMass Boston has come across as unhappy with the process that Wilson used to do the restructuring, but it is almost unanimous that the new chancellor, Keith Motley, is a good fit for the campus.

“The faculty union is looking forward to working with Keith Motley and feel we can have a good working relationship,” Rachel Rubin, president of the faculty staff union, said in a May 17 article in the Globe. “But at the same time, we feel extremely alienated by the complete exclusion from this process.”

On June 4, UMass Boston’s Faculty Council held a special meeting and voted 18 to 0 after their May 29 meeting with Wilson. While Amherst’s vote of no confidence included all members in attendance to their meetings, the Boston vote did not.

“The vote was 18 to 10,” UMass Boston Faculty Council Chair of the Executive Committee Noushin Ashrafi said. “Ten people did not vote. Out of 28 people on the faculty, 18 people voted. The other 10 abstained from voting. We have 28 council members, and they were the only ones who voted.”

It is important to note the key difference between UMass Amherst’s vote of no confidence and UMass Boston’s vote of no confidence.

“UMass Boston did not vote ‘no confidence’ in President Wilson,” Ashrafi said. “There was a vote of no confidence in the process. Amherst voted against the president, Boston voted for no confidence in the process. The reason that the faculty objected to the process is because they felt that [they weren’t] consulted enough. You’re trying to let the administration know that the faculty wants to be heard.”

Not every faculty member has shown disdain for Wilson’s restructuring plan.

“I support President Jack Wilson’s plan for forming a united front as a true, five-campus-university system, including a strong campus in Amherst,” Darrell Byers, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement at UMass Boston, wrote in a June 28 letter to the Boston Phoenix. “There are so many possibilities to explore, and there’s no question that the university can and should do more.”

Building links between schools. After the restructuring of higher-level leadership, UMass President Jack Wilson’s goal is to have more collaboration on research and developments, both between the five UMass campuses and between other institutions.

“There have been many, many successful collaborations and it’s important to keep that up,” Libby DeVecchi said. “The UMass gerontology project is between UMass Boston and the medical school. UMass Boston looks at the life side of aging, and the medical school looks at the health affects. University-wide, there is a renewable energy group that does research and looks for more efficient ways of running the campuses.”

Centralizing fundraising at UMass?The Boston Globe reported that the fundraising at UMass would be centralized, meaning that all of the money donate would be sent to the President’s Office, and then split up to the campuses, regardless of where it was donated to. Katherine Smith, vice president of advancement for the UMass Foundation wrote to the Globe and told them that it was simply not the case.

“Senior development officers at each of the five campuses, the university’s foundation, and the university’s board of trustees have been developing a plan for more than seven months to collaborate,” Smith wrote. “We plan to centralize data but to continue to have donor relations and fund-raising managed locally on the university’s five campuses. Development officers from the campuses and the university’s foundation will continue the collaboration started by the university’s development council in order to share information across campuses and with the president’s office.”

Glorified community colleges?The Boston Phoenix wrote an editorial on June 13 titled “The Mess at UMass,” saying that Chairman of the Board of Trustees Stephen Tocco and Wilson “would lead, if not to the dismemberment of the university, at least to the transformation of the Lowell, Dartmouth, and Boston campuses into glorified community colleges.” The President’s Office asserts that this is not a worry, and the system has “five strong, independent campuses” that have “shared aspirations, but each campus has developed ways to reach its own aspirations.”