Gora Withdraws Candidacy

Gintautas Dumcius

Chancellor Jo Ann Gora withdrew her name from consideration for the presidency of Lewis and Clark College, a small Portland, Oregon liberal arts school, the same week a letter to UMass President Jack Wilson from UMass Boston department and program heads signaled a groundswell of support for the chancellor.

Last Monday, April 26, the day of a major fundraiser that celebrated the new Campus Center and pulled in over $475,000 for student scholarships, and a week after visiting the 3,000-student campus, Gora spoke with the search committee of Lewis and Clark College, according to UMB officials, and withdrew her name from the running. Gora was one of three finalists, up against a dean of Smith College and a German college’s vice president, who got the recommendation for the job two days later.

According to UMass Boston spokesperson Ed Hayward, in her discussion with the search committee, Gora came to the conclusion Lewis and Clark “wasn’t the right fit for her.”

That same day, several faculty members, concerned by rumors of Gora’s candidacies at several institutions, Lewis and Clark included, and unaware of the status of the possible applications, launched a letter of support for Gora that was sent on to Wilson, Grace Fey, chairwoman of the UMass Board of Trustees, and Trustee Karl White, head of a task force reviewing racial climate on campus and the leader of a trustee review of Gora.

Nearly fifty signed the letter, representing several corners of campus, from the recently launched McCormack Graduate School to many from the College of Liberal Arts. The letter credited Gora with putting in place permanent leadership in both administration and the colleges-which had long suffered from a plethora of interim and acting leaders-and protecting the academic programs from budget cuts.

“The review is occurring at a time that is tough for us, because we’re engaging in planning for next year,” said Catherine Lynde, chair of the economics department and one of the chief organizers of the letter, along with English Department Chair Robert Crossley and Psychology Department Chair Steven Schwartz, who is also the faculty representative to the Board of Trustees. “Having uncertainty of whether the chancellor is going to be here or not makes it much more difficult.”

Lynde sent out an e-mail to over seventy of her fellow department chairs and program directors. “If you share the concern that the departure of Chancellor Gora would be a serious setback for our campus and that the university president and trustees should be doing all in their power to make it attractive for the Chancellor to stay at UMass Boston,” she wrote, “I hope you will agree to have your name and affiliation included in the list of signers of this letter.”

“We urge you both to conclude your deliberations as quickly as possible and report a favorable review for the Chancellor,” the letter said, adding at the end: “We do not know the range of concerns you have about the effectiveness of the Chancellor, of course. We do know that, from the viewpoint of department and program chairs, the Chancellor has been an able and effective leader in the last three years, as we work to move forward after significant losses due to retirement. We want her to remain with us and ask that you exert every effort to keep Chancellor Gora at UMass Boston.”

The letter was sent out the next day, April 27. “We’re just trying to say, ‘Listen, with the stability we’re trying to create, we could use some information about what’s going to happen,'” Lynde said.

Plans for a counter-letter by Gora critics, several of whom were offered to sign on to the letter and declined, are in the works.

On April 28, shortly after the letter of support was sent out, UMass Vice President and Treasurer Stephen Lenhardt, who is the designated staffer for the evaluation team, sent a broadcast e-mail, asking for comments to be e-mailed “concerning the leadership of Chancellor Gora or issues of interest/concern about the Campus.”

Reportedly a move contemplated for months, Lenhardt obtained permission from White to open the review up for comments that week.

Lenhardt did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The evaluation team has come under fire from both Gora critics and supporters for what has been seen as secrecy on its part, since it came to campus March 23 to meet privately with some campus leaders. No open meetings were held. University officials said this is due to a leadership style on the part of White, and there is no “boilerplate process” to chancellor evaluations.

Chancellor reviews occur nearly three years into a chancellor’s term and are put together by the UMass President’s Office.