Big Man on Campus

Dan Roche

Art by Conor Napier

Keith Motley casts a long shadow. When UMass Boston’s 6’8″ power chancellor shakes your hand it’s a close shake, and he looms over all but the largest people. At first, you don’t know what to make of it. You feel lost, swallowed by his suit. But you soon realize he’s not trying to intimidate. He’s a big, friendly guy who believes in signal first impressions. As you talk with him, you discover a good listener and a good talker, both ready with a laugh and thoughtful.

“Oh, Keith is beyond wonderful,” says Cindy White, office manager of the Northeastern University Athletics Department. “You guys are so lucky to have him.” She cited his character and intellect, his energy and warm heartedness; high praise from where he began his career, first as a student and later rising to Dean of Student Services.

His athletic career-first as court warrior, then coach and recruiter-culminated in 1999 when he was named to the Northeastern University Basketball Hall of Fame. On court he was a banger on the boards and a lockdown man-up defender, a Greg Oden prototype under future UConn supercoach Jim Calhoun. Later, as a recruiter and assistant coach, Motley helped bring Northeastern into the Final Four tournament under Calhoun several times.

Motley’s work extends past Northeastern and the basketball court. In 1999 he helped found the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, a middle school designed to help inner city schoolchildren gain the skills to succeed in high school and beyond. The school’s regimen involves a day that begins at quarter of eight in the morning and ends after three, with a shirt-and-tie uniform requirement and extensive parental involvement. One recent graduating class garnered some $400,000 in scholarships to private schools.

He also founded the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization of Concerned Black Men, a group that seeks to present positive role models and guidance to the African-American community. To this end the group offers summer camps, after-school programs, tours of historical black colleges, as an alternative to bleak street life for the disadvantaged.

Dr. Motley came to the University of Massachusetts as Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs in 2003. He performed well enough in this role to be named interim chancellor the next year, after the departure of former Chancellor Jo Ann Gora. When Michael Collins replaced Gora in 2005, Motley was made Vice President of Business Marketing and Public Affairs of the UMass system. This past summer, however, Collins was moved to the helm of the system’s Worcester outlet, and the reshuffling found Motley back in the top job at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Whether attending, founding, or running a school, Motley has created a solid record of producing positive change wherever he’s gone. On the 25th anniversary of our school’s merger with Boston State College, we look again at a future that presents both challenges and opportunities for growth. One thing is certain: our new Chancellor is ready.

? Married to Angela Motley, father of Keith Jr., Kayla, and Jordan? Appointed eighth chancellor of UMass Boston July 1, 2007? M.A., Northeastern? PhD, Boston College? Founder of Roxbury Preparatory Charter School? Chairman, “Do the Write Thing Challenge” of the Boston Committee Initiative’s National Campaign to Stop Violence? Trustee, Newbury College, Brookline? Board Member, American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts, Freedom House, Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, Inc., the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, ACCESS, and the Dimock Community Health Center? 1999 member of Northeastern University Basketball Hall of Fame? Averaged 7.8 rebound per game, 1976-77

InterviewKeith Motley

Q: Good morning, Dr. Motley. First, after serving as interim chancellor, then replaced by Chancellor Collins (who was unpopular at first but who proved a great fundraiser) then reinstated back to where you were popular before, but by an unpopular decision, how do you feel about coming back?

A: Being interim chancellor for two years served me well, but being Vice President for Business, Marketing and Public Affairs served me very well. But it was a vote of confidence by the faculty for me to return, and I’m proud to return to campus, it’s special to me. Home. It’s where I want to be. When I come to work every day it’s a joy, like something you discover in science or the humanities, it makes a connection to what fulfills me. I came home to serve, and without a bitter bone. I’ve got a confident bone, in that I’ve been blessed.

Collins proved himself, however, to be very good at bringing money to the school, and we need money. How to address this? To learn, grow, and go to a deeper level. Being Vice President allowed me a deeper understanding of the considerations that go into the senior-level decision making, and it was a good opportunity. But I’m proud to be sitting here now.

If you take a look, in 1987 I was given one of the largest development grants a local bank gave for a school. In the last two years I’ve been vice president for the advancement of the entire system, to take and facilitate those processes system-wide. I’ve sat where a lot of people haven’t sat. I’m very proud of the work of Chancellor Collins, we build off of each other. I will build on him, on his work in public affairs. It’s not about Chancellor Motley, Chancellor Collins, Chancellor Gora; no matter who the Chancellor is, you cannot implement changes without the right people behind you.

Q: What ideas and implementations are there? For example, office hours and communication with the community?

A: Communication is the big thing. We want to communicate effectively with you as students, the people that compose the university. Monthly, hours will be open- enough, we hope, for people to voice their opinions. I get some of my best ideas just walking around, seeing people. We’re soliciting ideas for the strategic planning process. We want to grow to 15,000 students, bolster the infrastructure, enhance our academic buildings, like you’d expect from a high quality public university. We want to make sure you have magnificent opportunities to learn. We want to increase the faculty, and the support faculty, so they can research and provide their services, to reach out without feeling as if they’re marginalized. So I think those are some things. I want to stay on the pulse, engage as I get around. One thing I’m looking forward to is the convocation on September 10th, when I’ll be talking about how we’re moving forward on our new initiatives.

Q: Say Dr. Motley is on the job at UMass Boston for five years. What does the campus look like?

A: Clean. At least as diverse, if not more so. Lots of “new dirt”, new buildings should be in process, more “smart” classes, more students, a lot more space between the left and right side of my hairline.

Q: Ten years?

A: All the buildings will be built, as much as possible. We will be the Boston public university that everyone wants to go to. We’ll be filled to the seams, turning people away. Academic excellence and good policy.

Q: Fifteen years?

A: Our present plans will be complete, and we can go into phases two, three, and four. We’re thinking twenty-five years. By then, everything you see now- building problems, reputational issues- will be a thing of the past. We’ll get over the hump, and we’ll take the assets we have now and go forward with them, to improve the whole university.

Q: Speaking of long-term development, what are the plans regarding the substructure and the library? Due to the shoddiness of the original construction, does it feel like you have to build, or rebuild, a school even as 12,000 people are attending it?

A: We’re doing the right thing. Safety first. We’re concerned first and foremost with the welfare of our students. We need the right engineers, and it has to be fiscally prudent. It’s a $160 million dollar project, all told, and it has to be taken into consideration with the safety of the faculty, staff, our students and our friends. No tragedies. We’ll err on the side of making people walk a few extra steps. We’re taking the process in slow steps.

Q: I’d like to address one matter of concern for the faculty, students, and administration alike- parking. Is “open air” parking a long-term solution? What steps are being taken to rehabilitate (or replace) the old garage?

A: One of the beautiful things about the plan this year is that after we lost 2,100 spaces last year, 1,100 when we closed the garage, there will still be 2,500 spaces in Fall 2007, according to the plan. I was part of the periphery there, the support process, but the campus did a fantastic job, just above and beyond. By the end of the month we finish paving new lots along University Drive, and beginning in mid-September the rocks will be replaced with asphalt, with improved drainage. We don’t want people stepping into a mess. As far as the greater picture, we need to figure out how to work it financially, and that comes through planning. The campus has a plan over the next two years that we can implement and tweak to meet our needs.

Q: How close to a resolution does the CPCS situation feel? Chancellor Collins and the College seem to have made some headway in the last semester, do you feel like you can build on that momentum? Are the big red “Save CPCS” buttons a thing of the past?

A: All colleges here are based on their superb expertise, and we’re proud of what CPCS has done over the years. We want nothing but excellence, so students feel proud to attend, faculty feel proud; the best work comes from those who give the best effort, who have that motivation. At the end of the day our school is special because of a college like CPCS. They are a difference-maker for us, and I see them and their work as an integral part of my responsibilities here.

Q: Any ideas about the UMB sports program?

A: Charlie Titus (the coach of the UMass Boston Men’s Basketball team) is a Boston institution. We need to take advantage of it. We have NCAA championships in women’s track, and we plan to build on that in master planning. I want to make people rethink how athletics are done in this city. I know it makes a difference in people’s lives, college ball; teamwork changes a person for the better. I’m excited about always offering the opportunity to people. We know we’ll field serious teams, and it’ll be exciting to see where it goes. Of course we’re going to hold the athletics department to standards where we define success chiefly as the ability to graduate.

Q: Any thought on the Kevin Garnett trade?

A: Danny Ainge! Ha, ha, ha. I hate to see Al Jefferson go, but KG is a great role model for the kids of Boston. He’s a bright guy, he’s serious about reaching out to the community, I think he’ll make a great Boston Celtic. It’s good too, to maximize Paul Pierce’s career. Good time to be a Boston sports fan.

It’s a good time to be in Boston, period, just a good time to be here. This college environment keeps you young. I understand and want to be around an environment with energy, and I love the chance to see it firsthand, even some of the more complicated things. I really am happy to be here, and that is the truth. It’s a place that instructs me. I love the faculty, but what I missed most while I was away were the students. People say, ah, you saw students every day as VP, but it’s just the flow of life, everyday life, that energizes me and reminds me why I’m in this work. It reminds me of the possibilities, so I’m excited by the opportunities, and glad to be home.