Gora Finalist for Lewis and Clark Presidency

Gintautas Dumcius

News spread quickly last week of UMass Boston Chancellor Jo Ann Gora’s position on the short list for the presidency of Lewis and Clark College.

Through word of mouth and e-mails rocketing from inbox to inbox, the campus community learned of the chancellor’s bid for the presidency of a small liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon.

The Portland Oregonian first broke the story that Gora was one of three finalists who visited the 3,000-student campus on April 19, and the article was forwarded throughout the UMB community.

Gora declined to comment on her candidacy at Lewis and Clark College and on other possible candidacies.

Gora let her executive staff know of the developments in a meeting April 20.

As he was heading to the elevator that evening, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul Fonteyn said, “Honestly, I don’t know the details about it.”

Said Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J. Keith Motley: “The chancellor should be able to consider opportunities both here at UMass Boston and at other places so she can determine what she wants to do with the rest of her life.”

Coming out of a Board of Trustees April 21 committee meeting, Gora added, “I am a successful college administrator and I’m frequently sought out for potential positions.” She gets calls from headhunters every month, she said.

UMass Boston spokesman Ed Hayward said, “She’s enjoyed a successful and distinguished career and like other leaders she receives inquiries and solicitations routinely, but the chancellor remains entirely focused on UMass Boston.” Hayward pointed to Gora’s interviews with candidates for the deanship of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, preparations for the fundraising gala, and raising scholarship money.

Other members of Gora’s executive staff referred all inquiries to University Communications.

The news came days before a fundraising event for the new Campus Center, and at a time when the university readies itself to undergo an evaluation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) next year. Gora herself is in the middle of a periodic trustee review of her two-and-a-half years as UMass Boston’s top administrator.

The news was a surprise to some, including Trustee Karl White, who is heading up both Gora’s evaluation team and a trustee task force on campus climate at UMass Boston.

“I’m unaware of the information,” White said, after a Board of Trustees committee meeting Wednesday morning. He said of the review was “moving right along,” and should be completed over the next sixty days.

“It’s a surprise to me,” said Steven Schwartz, a UMass Boston professor of psychology and faculty representative to the Board of Trustees. “I had no hint that she had applied.”

But not everybody was as startled.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Tom Goodkind, local representative for SEIU (Service Employees International Union 888). Goodkind said that former UMB Chancellor Sherry Penney was a finalist for many searches before she left. “It seems like that’s not an uncommon occurrence,” he noted.

Political science professor emeritus Richard Hogarty, who retired from UMass Boston several years ago, likened professional academic administrators like Gora to the “circuit riders of the old judiciary,” judges who went from town to town in 19th century America. “They tend to go from one institution to another,” he said.

Many expressed sorrow, with some labeling it a “catastrophe” if she did leave.

“I think she’s the best chancellor we’ve ever had,” said Robert Crossley, professor of English who recently headed up a search committee in charge of finding a new dean for the College of Liberal Arts. “I think it would be a real loss if she goes.”

“The chancellor serves as a beacon of light, a beacon of leadership at UMass Boston, and it would be unfortunate for us to lose her,” said student trustee Jamal Brathwaite.

Critics of Gora and her administration are staying largely silent on the matter, pointedly choosing not to get involved and declining to comment on the record.

The other candidates for the Lewis and Clark presidency are Maureen A. Mahoney, the dean of Smith College in Massachusetts, and Thomas J. Hochstettler, the vice president for academic affairs at International University Bremen, the Oregonian reported.

Tania Thompson, senior communications official at Lewis and Clark College, was unable to comment on Gora’s candidacy, but said the fourteen member search committee, lead by U.S. District Judge Owen Panner, was committed to identifying the best candidate. “They have not set a deadline for such a decision,” she said.

Previous Oregonian reports indicate the college would like a president installed by July 1.

Current Lewis and Clark interim president Paul Bragdon did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Through an assistant, U.S. District Judge Owen Panner declined to comment.

If chosen, Gora will replace Michael Mooney, who resigned in June 2003 following a scandal involving an unauthorized investment of $10.5 million dollars. The Oregonian reported in a November article that Mooney was the highest-paid university president in Oregon, raking in $314,079 in 2003. Gora, according to 2003 payroll figures, made $185,000. Gora took over as chancellor in August 2001, having previously been a provost at Virginia’s Old Dominion University for nine years.

“I think the university is a great place,” she said in a January interview. “I really enjoy the students and the people who work here. And so, you know, I’m going to keep doing it until it seems right to stop.”