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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Vice Chancellor Exits

After four years as UMass Boston’s vice chancellor of administration and finance, David MacKenzie will be among those taking early retirement at the end of the year.

“This has been an honor and a privilege really to have this job,” he says. “And I’ve learned a lot about the university and this kind of role.”

Appointed by former President William M. Bulger in 1999, MacKenzie also served as interim chancellor for seven months before Jo Ann Gora, the current chancellor, was found in a national search. When Bulger resigned last August, MacKenzie was on the short list for interim president, but lost to Vice President for Academic Affairs Jack Wilson.

One of the accomplishments that MacKenzie says he is most proud of is UMass Boston’s first new building in twenty years, the Campus Center. While he was not in there “pounding nails or anything,” he got the financing for it. “There were a number of financial issues that were very difficult to solve, and with the cooperation from the president’s office and the legislature we managed to get funding for it,” he says.

The time as interim chancellor was enjoyable for him. He added, “It was great to have a commencement and be in charge of commencement, meet all the people, and you know, just represent the university.”

When asked if there were any low points, he laughs and says, “Lots of them.”

The budget cuts during his tenure are chief among them. “Well, I’d say, it’s not been fun to be involved in all these budget cuts,” he says. “I mean, it’s been my job, and I’ve done it. But I’d much prefer…to be doing something that’s building something up right than taking it apart and being part of dismantling a number of programs around here. Not the core academic programs, but a lot of other things that have been hurt by the budget cuts. I’d rather be helping to expand them rather than to shrink them down. That’s what I’m paid for and that’s what I did, but I didn’t enjoy that.”

The university has barely sustained the state legislature’s budget cuts over the last several years and members of the legislature have said that next year’s budget is not looking any better. A report, put out by the independent and non-partisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation in late November, showed that in the coming year’s budget, prison spending will have outpaced higher ed spending.

MacKenzie, who spent fourteen years working in the state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, stated it was hard for him to say whether or not this was part of a trend, but he does not believe it will continue because he believes that prison spending will level off and UMass funding will pick up again. “If you look at the graph that the [MTF] put together, prison spending’s been on a pretty straight slope…The problem with higher ed funding is [that] it’s been sort of up and down, like a heart monitor…peaks and valleys, and we’re in a valley right now.”

The problem, he says, is that higher education is in the legislature’s “discretionary pile” when it comes to funding. “Higher ed and a few other areas they can just cut,” he says. “So whenever there’s a real budget crunch, we’re in the discretionary pile, and we get hit with a cut, whereas other things [like Medicaid, pensions] are cut less or not at all because they’re non-discretionary.”

MacKenzie, while saying he is trained as a lawyer and not an economist, took the opportunity to again call for a tax increase. Pointing to his years spent on Ways and Means watching tax revenues, he laid out a theory of tax increases to help the economy. In Massachusetts, “it is easy to document that the economy has improved after every tax increase we’ve done, and has gone south after every major tax cut,” he said.

The budget will be one of the biggest problems for the new vice chancellor of administration and finance from a number of angles, MacKenzie said.

Not all of the recommendations made by CURE, the Committee on University Resources and Expenditure, chaired by MacKenzie and set up to find cost-cutting measures like the campus’ “selective shutdown,” have been implemented, which will cause a “significant” but “manageable” budget gap that will have to be closed. An estimate of the gap is still being worked on, according to MacKenzie.

“There were a number of cost reductions in certain areas that have been delayed,” he says. “People haven’t been moving ahead with them as quickly or there’s been people who have been given layoff notices who have appealed and are still around kind of thing. Things have just taken longer to implement than I think the committee anticipated.”

Another huge challenge facing the new vice chancellor will be the passing of a one time-only 15% ($25 million) pay increase for UMass faculty, part of the legislature’s $81.1 million emergency spending bill. This is the first increase they have received in three years. For the increase to continue next year, it will have to be doubled to $50 million, according to MacKenzie.

“So on one hand, the legislatures are talking about a two billion dollar deficit, and everybody’s going to have to take cuts; on the other hand, we’re going to need a 50 million dollar increase just to stay even next year, so people won’t have to lose their pay increases,” he said.

Ellen M. O’Connor, the incoming vice chancellor and current vice president of finance for Brown University, will join the administration in January. She has previously worked as a budget analyst in the Senate’s Ways and Means, and was the budget director and comptroller in the Executive Office of Administration and Finance in the 1970s and 1980s.

MacKenzie said O’Connor was at Ways and Means before him, but he had worked with her when she was in the Executive Office and the Department of Social Services.

O’Connor is “very competent, very experienced,” he said. “She’ll do a great job.”