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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Gora Evaluation Team Arrives, Draws Criticism

A team commissioned to evaluate Chancellor Jo Ann Gora’s performance came and left UMass Boston after meeting with campus leaders, while drawing criticism from faculty and other community members who feel shut out of the process.

The evaluation team, recruited by President Jack M. Wilson and made up of UMass trustees Karl White and William Kennedy, Massachusetts College of Art President Katherine Sloan, attorney Gloria Larson, and staffed by Stephan Lenhardt, university treasurer, met March 23 with union, student, faculty, and administration representatives by invitation only.

Faculty members and others are crying foul and calling for a more open means to evaluate Gora. The outcry comes weeks after a closed-door session of the UMass trustees’ task force on racial climate at the Boston campus, and the rapid selection of Wilson as the permanent president of UMass. Questions have arisen about how both processes were conducted.

“I am so sick and tired of the way this university is run,” said Robert Johnson, chair of the Africana Studies Department, who had mistakenly received an invitation meant for Robert Johnson of the Graduate Employees Union. He came to the meeting for union representatives, but left after the mix-up became clear. “Our university shouldn’t be run like this,” he said of the evaluation process.

Many found out about the evaluation team meeting through a Mass Media online article put up before spring break.

“This was so quick,” said Marilyn Frankenstein, College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) professor. “We weren’t even told about it. We didn’t even know it was happening.”

“I definitely wish there was a more open process and more notice given,” said Linda Dittmar, an English professor who is also a member of the Faculty Council and a campus leader who wasn’t invited. “I think there should be a much wider consultation.”

“During past-Chancellor Sherry Penney’s reviews, the process was much more public and open,” said one professor on the condition of anonymity. “Also, whenever deans or provosts are reviewed on campus, there is always a more open process, and anyone who wishes has the opportunity to speak to the committee or offer written commentary. Why all the secrecy this time, and why have our supposed faculty leaders not demanded a more open process?”

Professor Emeritus Richard Hogarty, who retired in September 1998 and now watches from the political sidelines, said Gora should be evaluated by people she supervises, even if it means prolonging the process. “To legitimize her stewardship at UMass Boston, the entire community should have input,” he said.

For comparison purposes, some point to the radically different evaluation of UMass Dartmouth (UMD) Chancellor Jean MacCormack, who, like Gora, is up for her third year review.

MacCormack’s evaluation team, led by UMass trustees James Karam and Stacey Rainey, came to UMD for two days the same week of the Gora evaluation team’s appearance, and met with a broad cross-section of the Dartmouth campus community, which included faculty researchers, recently appointed faculty, recently tenured faculty, department chairs, center and program directors, as well as members of the faculty senate.

An open meeting which anyone could come to was held, but only four students and two faculty appeared, according to Karam, who in a telephone interview called the turnout a “disappointment.”

On March 1, several weeks before the meeting, President Wilson sent out an e-mail to the UMass Dartmouth community informing them of the evaluation team and ways they could contribute, whether through confidential written statements or participation in meetings with the team. “I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to participate in this critical performance evaluation process,” Wilson wrote.

An e-mail from Vice President of Economic Development Tom Chmura, who is staffing the UMD evaluation team, was also sent out to the campus community: “The committee is specifically interested in hearing your thoughts about the Chancellor’s overall leadership, strengths, weakness, and vision for the campus.”

No such letters were sent to the Boston campus.

University officials attribute the difference in processes to difference in leadership style. Karl White, the executive director of the MBTA Retirement Fund, is heading up the team, as well as the task force on racial climate. Every review process is designed to find out the same things, but how the actual review takes place is up to the team, said John Hoey, spokesperson for the President’s Office.

“Every review is conducted slightly differently,” said Lenhardt. “There is no boilerplate process.”

The team is also meeting with members of the civic and business community. The results of the evaluation will be forwarded to President Wilson, who will determine what to do next.

“We had a very good series of discussions,” Lenhardt said of the campus meetings. “Everybody was candid and open.”

Each group of representatives met separately with the team. Some of the sessions had a focus on the general direction of the campus, while others, like the one with Gora’s executive staff, directly discussed her performance since her appointment nearly three years ago. Much like when the trustee task force on racial climate came, the chancellor’s office merely provided the space in the Healey Library and, for the sake of objectivity, kept its distance. In a January interview, Gora said the team had asked for a statement, which she prepared, and a meeting. “And then I believe the committee is going to come to campus and talk to different groups of people, and I don’t know anything more beyond that.”

Gora said she feels positive about the evaluation. “I think these haven’t been an easy three years at the university,” she said. “There’s been a lot of difficult issues that have had to be tackled, but I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and that people are generally pleased with the direction of the university.”

Most who went to the meetings and were contacted by The Mass Media declined to talk specifics, frequently labeling it “inappropriate.”

Faculty Council Chair Celia Moore, professor of psychology, said the meeting with the executive Faculty Council had a “very cordial, conversational tone” to it where a range of topics was covered, including “the nature of being a chancellor and what a complex job it is.”

Moore, who has seen a few chancellor reviews, said, “In my experience, these are not usually open events.”

The evaluation team also met with union representatives, though a mix-up in times led to some representatives sitting in the front of the committee individually. Tom Goodkind, of UMass Boston Unions United, said he mostly spoke about labor relations, but the team also wanted to know more broadly about things on campus from an individual perspective.

The faculty staff union was invited, but declined to attend, according to vice president Larry Kaye, since “some have strong negative opinions of [Gora], some less so,” and it was “not appropriate to comment” or get involved.

A representative from UMass Boston’s police patrol officers union, which rarely deals with the chancellor’s office, also came.

Afterwards, the team met with members of the Student Senate.

In the afternoon, the team met with the chancellor’s executive staff, nearly half of whom have been hired on during Gora’s tenure.

“I was asked to come to the meeting,” said Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J. Keith Motley, who came on board last summer. “I didn’t know who was going to be at the meeting.”

There are many ways to conduct an evaluation, he said. “The key is to gather the information that you need to make comments for growth.”