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Will Keith Be Kept?

Interim Chancellor Keith Motley

Interim Chancellor Keith Motley

Despite Interim Chancellor Keith Motley’s lack of physical presence on campus today due to jury duty, he and his status as a contender for the permanent position remains in the minds of many on and off campus, as rumors circulate that the popular former vice chancellor of Student Affairs is out of the running.

But UMass administration officials at the chancellor’s office and the president’s office deny finalists have been picked in the ongoing search for a chancellor for UMass Boston.

Much of the chatter appears to stem from the Office of Student Affairs. The office’s Vice Chancellor Charlie Titus, appointed by Motley last fall, held a staff meeting Friday to address rumors that Motley has been cut from the short list of finalists, telling them Motley was not in the race anymore.

“There were rumors flying around all last week and I called my staff in to confirm that I’d heard the same things,” Titus said, adding that a number of students had approached him upset and confused at the prospect of Motley’s removal from the field of candidates. “The students certainly need to know what’s going on on their campus.”

“It’s pretty well-known throughout the university at this point,” Interim Director of Student Life Jain Ruvidich-Higgins told The Mass Media on Monday. “I just really want the students to take what they feel is the right action, but I don’t want them to do something that they don’t believe in.”

UMass Boston’s chancellor search committee, meeting tomorrow to officially pick finalists, is expected to submit a list for recommendation to UMass President Jack Wilson within the next few months, who in turn will hand a finalist to the Board of Trustees. Candidates, whose names remain unrevealed to the greater public due to confidentiality requests, have been interviewed and officially whittled down to around a dozen. Motley took over in August after Jo Ann Gora left to become president of Ball State University.

The potential move by the committee could radically change the dynamics of the race. For months since the search began, many on and off campus believed the job was Motley’s to lose, with the search considered a mere formality, as students campaigned to “Keep Keith” and a Boston Herald columnist opined for President Wilson to do the same.

But many students and staff in Student Life now instead appear to have little doubt that Motley is not on pace to become permanent chancellor.

The UMass President’s Office maintains that the search committee has yet to designate its finalists, labeling such speculation premature. “The rumor mill has gotten a little ahead of the reality,” said Robert Connolly, spokesman for the President’s Office.

Responding to speculation that Motley’s name was removed from the list during an informal vote when the committee met last week, Connolly acknowledged there is a “little bit of a straw poll” every time the committee meets. “Keith has been successful at each stage where there’s been a formal up or down,” he said.

Asked of the possibility of a breach in the confidentiality of the search, Connolly said it is highly unfortunate if a member of any search committee chooses to divulge names and or the status of any candidate. When the search committee started up last fall, members were encouraged to sign confidentiality papers to protect candidates. The finalists are expected to be revealed and come to campus for interviews.

Connolly maintains that the media involvement, which includes The Boston Globe‘s presence on campus today interviewing student supporters of Motley, and reactions to the possibility of Motley not getting the job, will not disrupt the search process.

UMass Boston spokesman Ed Hayward reinforced the university president’s office’s assertion, saying the chancellor search remains ongoing and has not yet produced a list of finalists.

“That being the case, the chancellor remains a viable candidate for the permanent post,” Hayward said of Motley. “The chancellor has stated all along that he’s intent on serving as chancellor or president of a college or university. His goal is to do that job here at UMass Boston. As he has said since he was named interim chancellor, he’s going to let his performance reinforce his qualifications.”

But word continues to rapidly ricochet around campus.

After attending Friday’s Student Affairs staff meeting, interim student life director Ruvidich-Higgins sent an email message, obtained by The Mass Media, to graduate and undergraduate student government officials.

“It is my sad duty to inform you that Chancellor Motley has not been referred on as a finalist in the search for the next chancellor of this institution,” she wrote. “If you feel as strongly about this as many others on campus and off, I encourage you to undertake an action that many of our organized groups on campus will be undertaking — a vote of no confidence in the Search Committee and it’s outcome.”

Ruvidich-Higgins said she only sent the email after hearing news of Motley’s seemingly stunted candidacy from a credible source, Titus, and in a meeting setting. “He felt compelled to go public with us,” she said. “And we felt that it was not inappropriate to go public.”

She said she sent the email to make students aware that they would have the support of Student Life, and that some on campus unions, faculty, and student coordinators are also planning to take action to ensure that Motley remains in the running.

Tuan Pham, student trustee and a member of the chancellor search committee, issued his own email to members of student government encouraging them to have faith in the process. He did not write on whether Motley was still a candidate.

The email, also obtained by The Mass Media, criticizes Ruduvich-Higgins’ “premature decision” to ask student government officials and other student groups to vote no confidence in the search committee. “I am disappointed in her decision as a visible leader in her department to ask you and other student groups to take on the work of discrediting a process she knows nothing of,” he wrote.

In the e-mail, Pham, who declined repeated requests for comment, called on students to trust the process. “As a student who has first-hand experience in the deliberations of the Search Committee meetings and the opportunity to interview all candidates, I can honestly say our search process has always been deliberated with fairness and comprehensiveness,” he wrote.

STUDENT GOVERNMENT REACTS

The student government body plans to hold an emergency meeting on either Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, according to members.

Student Senator Eliza Wilson, who said she was speaking as an individual student rather than for student government on campus, said she was warned of Motley’s seemed exclusion from the chancellor search before news broke throughout Student Life on Friday. “As a student I think it’s true that he was black-listed,” said Wilson, who works in the chancellor’s office for Motley’s executive assistant. Wilson helped spear-head a campaign last semester that sought student signatures in an effort to “Keep Keith” as permanent chancellor.

Women’s Center Coordinator Natalia Cooper said she was shocked at the possibility of anyone but Motley taking over as chancellor.

“At first I thought the search was a formality -that Motley was in,” she says. “He refused to look at things from only one point of view. He looks at things from the point of view of the student, the community, the administration, the higher-ups, and forms a highly-educated opinion.”

Student Senate Vice President Fritz Hyppolite shares this respect for Motley. “I’d love to see Keith stay, he’s a great addition to the campus community,” says Hyppolite.

Hyppolite says that student leaders on campus organized Friday evening to discuss the news from Student Life of Motley’s supposedly defunct candidacy.

He says a rally and contact with Boston-area media were among topics of discussion.

Despite Hyppolite’s endorsement of Motley he plans to reserve his judgment on the Committee’s decision until it is formally announced and or more information is made available, and will encourage his fellow senators and students to do the same.

“We need to educate ourselves about what’s going on and it’s our responsibility as leaders to educate our constituency,” he says.

Contact Kristen DeOliveira at [email protected].