Motley Gets the Nod

Newly appointed Interim Chancellor J. Keith Motley, with Provost Paul Fonteyn (inset).

Newly appointed Interim Chancellor J. Keith Motley, with Provost Paul Fonteyn (inset).

Gintautas Dumcius

JULY 14 – UMass President Jack Wilson announced Monday the appointment of Vice Chancellor J. Keith Motley to the position of interim chancellor, ending two months of speculation over who was to temporarily take over for Dr. Jo Ann Gora.

Motley, the head of the Division of Student Affairs, takes the helm of the Boston campus August 1, when Gora leaves to become the next president of Ball State University in Indiana.

“I know that Dr. Motley will provide strong leadership during this transitional period,” said Wilson.

“I have dedicated my career to serving students in higher education, so this chance to advance the urban mission of UMass Boston is a personally rewarding opportunity,” said Motley, surrounded by his wife, two daughters, and son.

Motley, the first person of color to lead UMass Boston, as well as the first in his family to go to college, was hired by Gora last August to aid student retention, an area with which he had been successful at Northeastern University as dean of student services.

“I always thought it had been our loss” and UMass’s gain, said Ed Klotzbier, vice president for student affairs at Northeastern, where Motley had spent much of academic life and career before coming to UMass. Klotzbier, who recently moved to student affairs last fall, called Motley a “first-rate administrator.” The appointment “speaks to how talented he is,” he said.

Across campus, the choice was met with acclaim from all levels, including students, faculty, staff, and administration.

“He’s such a student advocate, and I think that’s going to show,” said Susan Smith, a former student and student government president who graduated in June.

“His reputation is one of somebody who cares about students and cares about the community,” said Ann Withorn, a social policy professor at the College of Public and Community Service (CPCS).

Steven Schwartz, chair of the psychology department, said he has had “very positive interactions” with Vice Chancellor Motley on student matters. “I think in his talk he indicated he’s committed as part of the team to the strategic plan,” he said.

Schwartz noted that Motley may also be able to provide more visibility to the many things the university does, in terms of service to the community and Boston.

“I’m really excited by the prospect,” said Chris Hogan, associate dean of student affairs. “When we look at what happened last year in student affairs, we looked at moving forward, having that energy reverberate through the whole campus.”

Senior administration officials, who were notified over the weekend of the decision, appear comfortable with Motley, with many of them having worked with him over the past year.

“I have a close working relationship with Keith already, and so giving him my complete support is going to be easy,” said Ellen O’Connor, vice chancellor of administration and finance.

Provost Paul Fonteyn, considered by many to be a top contender for the job and currently on vacation, did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Outside of UMass Boston, both legislators and Board of Trustees members said they look forward to working with Motley in the coming months.

Motley “seems to be an excellent choice,” said Lawrence Boyle, UMass trustee and UMass Boston alumnus. “I think he’s well-respected at the Boston campus.”

“I’m delighted by his appointment,” said state Sen. Jack Hart (D-Boston), having heard the news yesterday. He stated Motley is “grounded in neighborhood sensitivity.”

Campus insiders pointed positively to the numerous mentions and emphasis by both Wilson and Motley of the plans set by Gora and the urban mission and community relations, two issues that have been sources of contention amongst faculty and campus community members over the course of Gora’s tenure.

Said Wilson: “The land-grant university mission comes to life in a particularly vivid way at UMass Boston, and it is a mission of bringing higher education to the people, and in so doing, touching and enriching countless lives. UMass Boston will continue to develop its academic and research excellence, while remaining mindful of its urban-mission roots.”

President Wilson signaling in his comments that the urban mission was key to Motley’s appointment is “very significant,” said Withorn, a critic of the Gora administration. The current administration has not valued the urban mission, and has tried to “redefine it and undermine it,” she said.

Those who lobbied for the university to stay the course Gora set do not forsee any major shifts.

“I don’t see it as a dramatic shift from the present course,” said Schwartz. Schwartz, faculty representative to the Board of Trustees and one of several faculty members who organized a letter of support for Gora to Wilson earlier this year, pointed to Motley’s support for the strategic plan and Gora’s three R’s: retention, research, and reputation.

“It reaffirms our commitment to the community,” said Gora of Motley, who she had appointed as head of a committee looking into the urban mission. The committee has been meeting regularly in the last several months, and met with Wilson when he came to campus to ask the community for input on who to choose for the interim position.

Hailing it as a “terrific appointment,” Roxbury Community College President Terrence Gomes said he looks forward to working with Motley on enhancing the university’s urban mission.

“I think the emphasis on the urban mission that Dr. Motley talked about and President Wilson made reference to, is something that’s really central and at the core of what this university’s all about,” he said.

As faculty, administrators, and reporters swirled around in front of her, Motley’s wife Angela, holding onto their daughter, smiled with pride.

“I know he’ll be a valuable asset to the UMass family,” she said.

Updated 7.16.2004