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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Motley Talks Dorms, Search, and Infrastructure

The third floor of the Quinn Administration building is not the most traveled wing of the UMass Boston campus. Above the floors that once housed the Registrar and Bursar Offices lay carpeted hallways foreign to the average UMB student.

At the end of one of such hallway, another office has been left empty, it is the office of UMass Boston’s permanent chancellor, an office that J. Keith Motley hopes might become his permanent home.

In just three months UMass President Jack M. Wilson will submit a name to the Board of Trustees that will decide whether Motley, who has been serving on the interim since Jo Ann Gora left for Ball State University in August, or one of about a dozen other candidates, will take the permanent post as chancellor. In the meantime, Motley says he remains optimistic and committed to having an impact on the university regardless of the length of his tenure at its helm.

“All I’m doing right now is living the chancellor dream one day at a time,” Motley said, only hours after the fourth meeting last week of the chancellor search committee, which narrowed the number of candidates to nearly a dozen. “I love the job, I’ve been in it for seven months now, and I’m still trying to extend the honeymoon period as long as I can,” he said.For Motley that “honeymoon period” has been a busy one. “I was doing a lot of listening during the fall,” he told the Mass Media in a late afternoon telephone interview. “I was able to get around and meet a lot of people throughout the campus, but also engage with people in the community as well. I’ve been meeting with all the different civic groups from Dorchester and South Boston, those kinds of places up and down Colombia Point…to promote the university and work to help benefit the things that we do here in Boston and beyond.”

When asked to assess his effectiveness as chancellor thus far, Motley pointed to the momentum of the campus beginning with its hosting duties during the Democratic National Convention and the Carter Partnership Award ceremony, then turning to the $12.5 million National Science Foundation grant awarded last fall.

“We as a campus are doing a wonderful job putting the agenda forward,” said Motley. “I’ve been doing a lot of fun things, as a chancellor you get a chance to move around and meet a lot of people and host a lot of events,” he added.

Motley is confident that he has the qualities that define an effective chancellor and dismisses any questioning of his academic credentials. “I have a Ph.D., and I’ve built schools and taught people how to teach school…That’s not really an issue for me,” he said.He contends that leadership capabilities should remain chief among the credentials of a prospective chancellor and feels that he demonstrates those qualities.

“Once you sit in this seat you understand what those things are and I bring many of those qualities to the table, that’s why I’m sitting here now…The concern should be what can I do to galvanize the strength of this campus and I think I’m doing a wonderful job at that,” Motley said. “I’m not applying to be the provost here, my goal is to be the chancellor.”

Infrastructure Needs ‘Immediate Attention’

Motley appears undaunted in his goal despite recently pressing issues with the campus’ failing upper and lower level infrastructure.”We want people to know we have a significant physical plant problem and it needs immediate attention,” Motley said of the campus foundation that has been diagnosed with an estimated ten-year shelf life as a result of poor design, construction, and neglect.

According to Motley, since last semester’s visit from the state’s Division of Capital Assessment Management (DCAM), there has been a constant flow of architects assessing the space. He contends that the project is moving along faster than most.

When asked if there is a time table set out for the repairs, Motley would only allow that the issue is a pressing one that the UMass community in total has been lobbying to remedy.”I would say it has to be done quicker than normal, it has to be fast-tracked, and I think they will,” said Motley. “The president has been on this issue, the trustees are on it…the student trustee has been on it, we’ve been on it…People hear that persistence and then they sort of come to see it themselves,” he continued.

Dorms Not a Solution For Retention, He Says

Motley hopes to profit from persistence in improving the university’s freshman retention rates as well. Motley, who was brought on as vice chancellor of student affairs from Northeastern University, where he was dean of student services, was picked by Gora in part because he had gained a reputation for improving rates at Huntington Avenue college.But while Motley has widely been credited with revitalizing the office of Student Affairs and student life, UMass Boston’s enrollment continues to remain unstable.

Through continued work with faculty and staff, as well as partnerships with Boston area schools, Motley said he hopes to further encourage students to both begin their educations at UMB and remain with the university in for the entirety of their degrees.”We want this to be the first choice for students and we’ve been working hard at that,” he said. “I’ve been meeting with senior leadership of the university to help them understand that stabilizing and building an enrollment is a campus-wide goal and everyone plays a role in that.”

Motley says that often students do not leave UMass Boston for negative reasons, but rather for the opportunity to continue their education at an institution with a greater academic reputation. “I don’t attribute this whole attrition issue to the work of the campus as much as I do… [to] us sort of repairing the reputation of the university, building up our teaching and learning base, and enhancing the kinds of things we know we want to do to make this place continue to be the great university that it is,” said Motley.

For now, Motley says he is not focused on providing dorms as a possible means of influencing retention.”What I’m focused on is really enhancing the life and the residential life of the students that are already right here,” said Motley, referencing the fact that the nearly 700 students reside in Harbor Point and the approximately 1600 that make their homes along the Red Line. Dorms were a hot topic during Gora’s tenure due to fierce opposition from neighborhood groups and some in the state legislature, who thought that dorms would violate the university’s urban mission and a promise made years ago of no student housing.

The Semester Ahead

Motley appears anxious to get into the meat of this spring 2005 semester, marking UMB’s fortieth anniversary. The university’s re-accreditation process shifts into high gear this semester as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) April evaluation approaches. “We’re using this process for healthy discussion about the future direction of this campus,” he said of the preparation for the accreditation that has been going on around campus for the past year and a half.

The third leg of the Urban Mission Coordinating Committee sponsored Community Outreach and Resource Center, the annual university gala, and the return of commencement ceremonies to the UMB campus from the Bayside Exposition Center, are among Motley’s plans for the semester.

On February 18 he will deliver his state of the university address. Motley says he plans to discuss “where we are as a community, our accomplishments, and what we’re going to do for the rest of my tenure in this particular role.”

“This campus has been stepping up, folk have been stepping up with smiles…People that haven’t been engaged in a long time have become part of this process, so I’m very grateful,” said Motley of his interim position. “It’s been exciting and I’m excited. I’m looking forward to every day that I serve in this room.”