Chancellor Search In Early Stages


Chancellor Keith Motley and Vice Chancellor Charlie Titus


Gintautas Dumcius

The search for a new chancellor currently remains in its early stages, as the UMass President’s Office is in touch with various campus constituencies, steadily making moves to put together a search committee.

“At this point, we are soliciting input on the formation of the search committee,” UMass President Jack Wilson said in a wide-ranging interview last week.

Senior UMass Boston administration officials, faculty, and student representatives have been contacted over the last several weeks for advice.

UMass officials expect to have the search committee appointed and up-and-running sometime this September. The search is expected to follow what seems to be the “natural cycle” in the academic world, of starting in the fall and ending mid-spring, back to autumn with a new chancellor in place.

“That’s kind of the natural cycle of events,” said Wilson. “You’d like to speed it up sometimes, but in general, it takes a certain amount of time if you’re going to take the time to put together the various constituencies, to allow the search committee to organize itself, to solicit candidates and nominations, and work through those.”

The search will be a national one. “What happens in a search is that you start out, you want everything,” Wilson said. “Then, at some point, you have a list of human beings, and then that’s when a search really gets going.”

In the meantime, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J. Keith Motley is serving on the interim, having taken over August 1, after Chancellor Jo Ann Gora left to become president of Indiana’s Ball State University.Motley seems to be settling into his new job, meeting with students, faculty, staff, and community members.

In a message to the university community the day after he took over, Motley wrote that the anticipation of a smooth transition will give a chance for the university to focus on the work in the year ahead.

“We will revise and complete our Strategic Plan, which focuses on the three Rs: research, retention, and reputation. Also, we will continue to work with the university community in preparing our accreditation self-study for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. While undertaking these and other important endeavors, we will at the same time pursue one over-arching goal: to ensure that our students receive the highest quality education possible.”

Motley, the first of his family to attend college and the first person of color to lead UMass Boston, was appointed in July, following several meetings between President Wilson and campus community groups.Campus insiders pointed to Wilson’s comments at the July press conference about the university’s urban mission (a source of some campus contention) as key to Motley’s appointment.

While saying that his support for the urban mission is part of his decision-making, Wilson added, “[P]icking Keith Motley as interim chancellor is really based upon a much more complex thing than that. That is, really sitting back, and saying, ‘Okay, how can we best position UMass Boston for success.'”

Wilson said part of the decision was based on building “the strongest team I could put on the field” during the interim period. Wilson praised Provost Paul Fonteyn, who was widely viewed as a top contender for interim, and Vice Chancellor of Finance Ellen O’Connor, who came earlier this year from Brown University.

“The other night, you probably saw [Red Sox player] Doug Mientkiewicz play second base, right? Does that mean he’s the best second baseman? I don’t know,” said Wilson. “But it meant it was the strongest team they could put on the field right then. And that’s what I was trying to do at UMass Boston.”

Rounding out the team will be Athletics Director Charlie Titus, appointed by Motley last week to take over the Division of Student Affairs while Motley stays in the Quinn (Administration) Building for the duration.

A veteran basketball coach, Titus has been with UMass Boston since 1974, overseeing 14 intercollegiate sports since his appointment as the university’s first athletic director in 1980.

“I think [Motley] wanted someone who had a wide berth of experience in the area of Student Affairs,” said Titus. “Beyond that, athletics has been my life.”

Titus said he believed it’s a critical time for the campus as it moves in a positive direction, so much so that in taking the position, he postponed what would have been his thirtieth year as a coach. “Sometimes you make sacrifices for the greater good,” he said.

As a new academic year starts and a chancellor search committee begins to assemble, the conventional wisdom crystallizing on campus is that the chancellorship is Motley’s to lose. Motley, while still slightly unknown to the greater faculty, has won praise for his leadership of the Urban Mission Committee, comprised of campus community members that have steadily grown in number as word of the committee spread. Motley remains popular with students and as a Boston Globe Campus Insider column noted, UMass picked several interim candidates for top positions, after national searches.

When asked if he has a “soft spot” for interim candidates, being one himself before he became permanent president in March, President Wilson said, “I have a soft spot for the best possible candidate we can get for the chancellor’s position. If it turns out to be the interim candidate, great. If it turns out to be somebody who walks in from outside, great. I think we just take this straight up. We’re looking for the best person to lead UMass Boston.”