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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Search for a President

Earlier this month the UMass Board of Trustees assembled a group of twenty-two Massachusetts community members to form the UMass president search committee. For the most part, the members of the committee obviously have a deep connection to UMass-having worked within the system for many years-and will be able to bring a lot of higher education-based experience and knowledge to the collective hunt. However, some members of the committee do not seem to have a deep understanding of what higher education needs, so their contribution to the team is questionable at best.

More than a third of the members on the search committee were drawn from the business world. It’s not clear that these people have the vital understanding of not-for-profit state-run institutions such as the university. Since these people will be drawing on their business experience, they may look for candidates that want to run the school system like a profit-seeking business. Also, some of these people have a history of doing what is right for the company’s profit but is harmful to the company’s workers and local community. Since more than a third of the votes on the committee will be controlled by these representatives from the business community, they hold too much influence over the final decision for us not to be concerned with their backgrounds.

Ex-CEO of GE, Jack Welch, is a good example of why we should be cautious. Despite a career with GE that was somewhat controversial at times, Governor Romney said he would like to see Welch on the search committee the week before the board officially selected him. Some people see the addition of Welch as an attempt to placate Romney, who has vocalized his intent to appoint ringers to the Board of Trustees. What’s unfortunate for the UMass community is that Welch should not be on the search committee since practically and ethically he won’t be bringing anything of use to the table. According to The Boston Globe, the controversies related to Welch feature a history of “extensive fraud with [GE’s] US military contracts” and a retirement package that makes Bulger’s look modest. His professional past was a trail of tears for thousands of GE employees. Business week noted, “he earned the moniker Neutron Jack for all the jobs he eliminated” in the US and sent down to South America during his first ten years at GE’s helm.

Including members of the business community on the search committee is not inherently problematic. Higher education exists within the world’s economic context, to which business professionals are directly linked. These professionals can contribute with their real-world economic knowledge. However, the UMass system is not about building revenues and profits; higher education is about building a well-educated community without cutting corners-or as some would say, “cutting costs.” Like Romney, Welch will be looking for someone who is going to reduce the schools “dependency” on state funding. A president with big business in mind will seek to make the UMass system more self-funding, possibly even profit generating, essentially implementing for Romney the plan he was forced to sideline after much public outcry.

The Board of Trustees is yet to publicize exactly how the members of the search committee qualify to represent and to appreciate the needs of the UMass system. The public has the right to know who these people are and what they’ve done in the past. So far, finding information on the members of the search committee requires an exhaustive investigation. Instead, the Board of Trustees should include information on their website illustrating why these community members are fit to represent the UMass community in the search for our new president. This is a simple request to make. In fact, the trustees should have anticipated that the public would be interested in the backgrounds of these people. The failure to be forthcoming with this information only lends an air of suspicion to the endeavor.

Many of us in the UMass community are concerned about who is in control of our university. Romney’s plan to reorganize the UMass system and possibly privatize one of the campuses makes us wary about those who are associated with the republican governor, like search committee member Jack Welch. Fortunately UMB members will have an opportunity to address this issue with the search committee on Thursday, Oct. 2 in the Chancellor’s conference room. Starting at 8:30am committee members will be responding to questions and taking suggestions; The Mass Media encourages UMB constituents to attend this meeting and communicate to the committee your concerns about its membership.