Motley To “Change Entire Culture”

Gintautas Dumcius

UMass Boston’s newest top administrator outlined plans “to change the entire culture of this institution” at a dessert reception held by the Beyond Our Backyard Service Club the other week. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J. Keith Motley, who joined the administration in August, was asked by some members of the club, who were impressed with his inspirational speaking abilities, to come by as a guest speaker.

Calling Student Affairs a division “at the center of this university,” Motley revealed plans to “change the entire culture of this institution, and we’re in the process of doing that.” The process includes setting up a winter gala in the new campus center, set to be “the biggest blowout in the history of UMass Boston.” The gala will be like Fest-Of-Us, but on a grander scale, and will take place every year, as will Fest-Of-Us and a spring gala.

“Since I been here, I’ve been hearing you all saying, ‘Oh, that’s the Quinn folk over there and students are over here.’ Well, I’ve been over here more than I’ve been over there, hanging out in this building, with you. If there is a cultural shift that needs to happen in Quinn, then let’s do some of that,” he said.

Joseph Panciotti, the former Student Senate president, was in the audience, and asked Motley about students over sixty years old losing their tuition waivers. Motley said that was more of a question for Chancellor Jo Ann Gora, since he wasn’t at the university when the issue was decided. “So I’ll go back and find that out for you, but I would say that if you want to know the answer that, the people that I heard are part of that, because I can’t stand here and say I’ve heard of that,” he said. “But I’m moving so fast on issues that are important to what I thought was creating a different kind of culture on this campus, that I hadn’t really paid much attention to that issue.”

While saying he read the report, Motley pointed to the people on the Committee on University Revenues and Expenditures (CURE) who made the decision. “Vice Chancellor [of Administration and Finance David] MacKenzie, Chancellor Gora, Vice Chancellor [of Enrollment Kathy] Teehan, there was no Vice Chancellor Motley up in that,” he said to laughter from the small crowd. “I’m here now, so I can facilitate discussion, but I don’t think you need any kind of facilitation. You already know the track for that. I think you might consider doing that as soon as possible. There are some other things in there that we’re concerned about and we’ve asked those questions, and as a community we’re going to ask them. That’s one thing-I would like to hear the answers. Let me know.”

Motley praised the Beyond Our Backyard club, saying, “Your involvement can touch many people’s lives. Organized involvement has the potential to do the things beyond your dreams.” He also related his own experiences volunteering. “I started out years ago with ten men, who were tired of hearing about the black males going the way of the dodo, the dodo bird. They used to say that black men would be extinct because they were going to jail, they were doing this, they were doing that. No one ever talks about the percentage of the young people who are being successful,” he said. “So these ten men from all walks of life… firefighters, doctors, lawyers, etcetera, decided we were tired of hearing about that. So we began to organize and develop the process where we would take children starting in the third grade, and work with them each Saturday, teaching them something different and then going to their schools and teaching those teachers.”

He got to see results of the work just the other day, when he was on a conference call from Atlanta with several students. “It’s a beautiful thing when I can sit in my office yesterday, and I’m on a conference call from Atlanta, with one student at Morehouse, another student at Morris Brown, another young man down in Florida, in Miami, and Johnson and Wales, becoming a chef… on the phone to me, talking about, ‘What’s up, G?’ you know? And they’re in college, doing their thing, moving towards their goal. When you can live long enough to see it all come to fruition, it’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “So when I step back and I see you all with these kinds of intentions, it is the one thing that just says to me that all this work is-sometimes, you know, working here, until seven or eight or nine o’clock at night, ten o’clock, when others are sleeping-is worth it because you are out here sacrificing your time for something that makes a difference.”

Motley also gave suggestions to the Beyond Our Backyard club for a campaign. “One of the great things that you might do beyond your backyard for me just create a campaign on this campus where people start saying ‘Hi, how are you today’ to each other,” he said. “The ‘Hi, How Are You’ Campaign. Because that alone changes the culture of this campus. A simple ‘Hi, how are you.’ But also ‘Hi, how are you, this is what we’re doing, maybe you want to be involved in our house party.’ Talk to each other about what you do.”

“When I first came on campus, one of the things you wanted to make sure were in emphasis with me was the whole idea of us working in a service kind of way, with those in our community. And it’s been a wonderful ride thus far. And I’m looking forward to even a bigger ride,” he said.