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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Gora Gone: New President at Ball State U

Almost three years to the day after she became chancellor of UMass Boston, Jo Ann Gora is heading to Indiana to assume the presidency of Ball State University.

In a university-wide memo sent after she had left on a morning flight to Indiana, Gora wrote, “This was a difficult decision and one made with sadness at the prospect of leaving my friends on campus and in Boston. But after exploring this opportunity, I felt compelled to accept.”

Statements from UMass Board of Trustees Chairwoman Grace Fey and UMass President Jack M. Wilson both wished Gora well in her new job.

Gora “opened the doors of the campus’s spectacular new student center, attracted outstanding new faculty members and administrators, oversaw the creation of a new graduate school and moved forward with investments in vital research areas,” Wilson said.

At a news conference after the announcement, Gora said she would enjoy working at Ball State because she had noticed that the university “enjoyed such strong support from [area] residents, not just state legislators, and that is very important.”

She also said, “I hope to be at Ball State as long as you will have me,” in answer to a question about the length of her term.

Gora had been a finalist for the presidency of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon several weeks before. She withdrew two days before someone else was picked, but campus speculation continued about a candidacy at Ball State, where she beat out seven other finalists, all of them reportedly sitting presidents of universities.

The search, manned by fourteen committee members and begun in December, has come under criticism for its secrecy. Many faculty also liked the outgoing president Blaine Brownell, who left in October to become CEO of U21pedagogica, Ltd., a subsidiary of an international group of research universities.

“Due to the way the Board of Trustees handled the search, a lot of faculty have said she’s coming in with a cloud over her head. A significant number of faculty already have a chip on their shoulders,” said Gail Koch, who covers Ball State as a reporter for The Star Press in Muncie, ID.

Ball State has also suffered several student deaths in the last year.

Gora is expected to stay at UMB through commencement, and will officially take over at BSU August 9. BSU, a public university, has 18,000 students and a yearly budget of $240 million. Gora will make $260,000, plus a housing allowance, with a 5-year contract at BSU. Gora made $185,000 a year at UMass Boston.

Inquiries about who will take over the chancellor’s post after Gora leaves were labeled premature by senior administration officials. The UMass President’s Office is still waiting to hear from the chancellor when her last day will be.

Her departure comes just as the university gets ready to undergo a 2005 review process, and as Gora is under a routine third-year review by the President’s Office via a committee run by Trustee Karl White.

White was traveling on business and could not be reached for comment.

Gora leaves on a high note, having just hosted a gala fundraiser celebrating the opening of the new Campus Center, which pulled in more than $535,000 for student scholarships.

Critics and supporters of Gora and her administration greeted the news with reserved words and sorrow, respectively.

“My colleagues and I are very saddened by her departure,” said Russell Schutt, sociology professor and member of the Faculty Council.

Said Steve Schwartz, faculty representative to the UMass Board of Trustees and one of nearly fifty professors who sent out a letter supporting Gora to the UMass President’s Office: “I think it’s a very sad day for the university.”

“I feel that her respect for UMass is genuine, so there must be something really special [at Ball State],” said Joyce Morgan, director of Student Life.

Many of Gora’s executive staff referred all requests for comment to University Communications.

“She represented UMass Boston well and will move on to lead Ball State with the class and dignity that she displayed while in our midst,” said Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J. Keith Motley, e-mailing a comment from his handheld BlackBerry. Senior administrators, like Motley and Provost Paul Fonteyn at a student luncheon, stood in for Gora at events she had scheduled that day.

Critics of Gora were atypically reserved in their comments.

“I think it’s a good decision on her part, because she wasn’t a good fit for an urban university,” said Ann Withorn, a professor of welfare policy and privatization for the College of Public and Community Service, adding that she hoped it was a chance for a “new beginning.”

“There was beginning to be some movement on resolving some of the campus climate issues that have been raised by some segments of the campus community,” said Tim Sieber, professor of anthropology. “It’s too bad she decided to leave before those were fully dealt with.”

A task force on campus climate, also headed up by White, was established when the April 2003 arrest of an Africana Studies professor and the September 2003 resignation of a popular college dean led to heightened racial tensions.

In what may have been of a sign of things to come, at this week’s Faculty Council meeting, Gora inadvertently misspoke, calling Boston State College, which merged with UMass Boston in the 1980s, “Ball State.” She quickly corrected herself.