Gora: Ball State Offer ‘Too Good To Turn Down’


Chancellor Jo Ann Gora, pictured here with a Boston Herald reporter.


Gintautas Dumcius

Eighteen thousand students. An operating budget of more than $240 million. An endowment of $120 million. These factors and more added up to an offer that UMass Boston Chancellor Jo Ann Gora could not refuse, leading her to begin packing her bags, bound for Indiana’s Ball State University.

It was when Ball State trustees offered her the presidency, which comes with a yearly salary of $260,000, that Gora decided to leave UMass Boston, after three years at the helm of the Columbia Point campus.

“Up until that point, I really wasn’t sure,” she said, sitting down with The Mass Media a week after the announcement. “But they made me an offer that was very attractive and they spent a lot of time talking to me about Ball State University and the opportunities I would have there to move the institution forward, and the fact that they were so supportive about moving the institution to the next level and so eager for me to come.”

Gora never formally applied for the position, but instead was sought out by the search firm, Baker Parker and Associates, which persuaded her to come to Chicago for the first round of interviews several months ago. The same happened at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, where she was one of three finalists, ultimately pulling out several days before their pick for president was announced in late April.

“I didn’t formally apply to either position,” she said. “I think that all the publicity surrounding Massachusetts higher education [with Governor Mitt Romney’s higher education reorganization plan and UMass President William Bulger’s resignation] led to search firms taking a look at me, and maybe others, and trying to see whether they would be interested looking at other institutions given all the changes that have taken place.”

Ball State trustees were already familiar with Gora, according to an investigation by the Muncie Star Press; she was a candidate for president four years ago when she was provost at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

“I had no memory of that,” she said. “But it was before I came here. It’s funny that turns out to be the case, although I had no memory of that.”

At the press conference immediately following the announcement, Gora spoke of Indiana legislators and a community that were supportive of the university. At UMass, Gora first ran into trouble with local legislators and community groups, when she and President Bulger unsuccessfully pressed for dorms at the commuter campus. The push was stopped cold when Gov. Mitt Romney threatened to cancel a bond sale, leading President Bulger to drop dorms from the list of projects.

Asked if legislative and community support were factors in her decision, Gora said, “Well, I think what was important to me was that I would have my own board [of trustees], which I think is a very important difference.”

With Ball State, “it’s a group of people who are clearly committed to the campus, and are clearly committed to moving the institution forward,” she said. “It’s also an institution that has significant resources. It’s better funded than Indiana University and Purdue University. And it has a $120 million dollar endowment, five nationally ranked programs. So there’s resources to move the institution forward, and there’s a desire for that to happen.”

At UMass Boston, which is part of a five-campus system, it’s “always a little bit more complex,” since the interests of the different campuses must be balanced. “At Ball State, I will be going to the legislature lobbying for a Ball State University, and that will be clear and everybody will understand that,” she said. “Here, it’s the President’s Office that lobbies for the system, and chancellors play a much lesser role in that. So your ability to lobby effectively for your own campus is more limited.”

Reports of Lack of Support

Reports of a lack of support from the President’s Office and friction between Gora and the UMass system’s new president, Jack M. Wilson, have circulated. Additionally, an incoming bad review of her tenure from anonymous campus sources was also printed in the Boston Globe, which Gora dismissed as untrue. “Anonymous is very active on this campus,” she said.

The President’s Office reacted similarly. “I don’t think that’s the case at all,” said Robert Connelly, a spokesperson for the President’s Office. Connelly noted that both Wilson and Board of Trustees Chair Grace Fey issued “very positive” statements when Gora’s appointment was announced, and that Wilson had spoken with her before she announced her plans to leave UMass.

But some in the campus community saw a perceived lack of support, such as the President’s Office not publicly responding to the anonymous reports, as another factor in her departure.

“I think it’s more complex than that,” said Gora, stating that she believes the president is supportive of her. “I think there’s just a myriad of factors that went into my decision.”

“I don’t know if there was friction, but I do think that the President’s Office and the Board of Trustees could have done more to support her in a public fashion,” said Steven Schwartz, professor of psychology and faculty representative to the Board of Trustees. Schwartz was one of several professors who, after hearing that Gora was a candidate at several universities, organized a letter in support of her that was sent to Wilson and the Board of Trustees, urging them to move to keep her.

Many faculty, both supporters and critics, criticized the secrecy and length of the review.

It was nearing completion when Gora announced her plans, said Connelly, and her position removed some of the urgency. “I’m not sure where that [report] is at the moment,” he said.

Turbulent Tenure Ends On High Note

Gora’s tenure was at times a turbulent one, with unprecedented budget cuts coming out of the Legislature and the prospect of dorms leading to questions about the university’s commitment to its urban mission. It was also marked with heightened racial tensions after campus police arrested an Africana Studies professor and a popular college dean resigned several months later.

The Board of Trustees named Trustee Karl White, later designated to lead Gora’s review, the head of a racial climate task force. Gora herself started a Public Safety Advisory Board in response to the professor’s arrest, and an Urban Mission Coordinating Committee with Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Dr. Keith Motley as its head.

Gora was also hailed for raising academic standards, with research funding jumping eighteen percent, and for the filling of numerous empty slots in administration.

Critics have maintained that she was never a good fit for an urban university such as UMass Boston. Gora, however, disagreed. “I have always worked in urban universities,” she said. “Old Dominion University was in an urban setting.”

Gora recognizes the controversies in her three years at UMass Boston. “When you try to do things, you become controversial, and that’s true no matter where you are, because change is hard, and there’s always a group of people who resist change,” she said. “But the only way institutions move forward is by taking chances and doing things differently. So, it’s not possible to be effective and not be considered controversial by some people.”

Gora leaves on what can be seen as a high note, with increased diversity among students and faculty, and the opening of the new Campus Center, which was celebrated with an April gala that raised over half a million for student scholarships. “I think the gala was fabulously successful,” she said. “Both in terms [of] the money it raised and the visibility it brought to the campus.”

Her last days at UMass Boston will be spent working on various items. “I am still working to advance the mission of the campus,” she said, “and so I’m still doing exactly what I was doing before I accepted this job offer. I’m working on the budget for next year and working on trying to convince Boston Water and Sewer Commission that they should move their material handling facility to another location, and trying to increase the yield activities for the fall 2004 entering class.”

For her supporters who are saddened and disappointed that she is leaving, Gora said she is saddened as well. “But I was offered a great opportunity at a very exciting university, and it was just too good to turn down,” she said.


Compiled By Mass Media Staff


May 27 – Gov. Mitt Romney approves a UMass bond for construction, sans money for controversial dorm project, effectively stalling plans for student housing at the Boston campus.

June 17 – After fourteen years, Lewis & Clark College President Michael Mooney steps down and takes teaching job in Japan because of an unauthorized $10.5 million loan to an oil tech company. A month later, U.S. District Judge Owen Panner is appointed to search committee for a new president.

June 26 – UMass Board of Trustees holds a six-hour meeting, determining to keep President Bulger and ignore Gov. Romney’s calls for his removal because of Bulger’s controversial Congressional testimony earlier in the year.

August 6 – UMass President William M. Bulger resigns after nearly seven years of heading up the UMass system and several months of battling with Gov. Romney over a higher education re-organization plan, which included the elimination of his office. Vice President of Academic Affairs Jack Wilson is appointed interim.

September 2 – Popular College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) Dean Ismael Ramirez-Soto resigns, leading to anger and increased tensions between some faculty and UMass Boston campus administration. Racial tensions came up as well, already acerbated by the April arrest by campus police of an Africana Studies Professor Tony Van Der Meer, which Gora called “deplorable.”

September 17 – Gora gives her convocation speech, unveiling her three R’s: Retention, Research, and Reputation. The theme becomes an integral part of the university’s strategic plan.

September 24 – New trustee task force is announced, headed up by UMass Trustee Karl White, to look into racial climate on campus.

October 9 – Gora’s Public Safety Advisory Board, made up of sociology professors and campus officials and set up in response to the Van Der Meer’s arrest, meets in the last week of September for the first time, The Mass Media reports. Later, it recommends that the Department of Public Safety be put under the purview of the Division of Student Affairs.

October 20 – Ball State University President Blaine Brownell resigns after three years, following a previous meeting four days earlier where the Board of Trustees talked of renewing his contract. Days later, faculty accuse the trustees of creating a “crisis,” according to Associated Press (AP) reports.

November 14 – Ball State trustees appoint 14-person search committee. Faculty members criticize the process. “We have no idea how the names were selected,” Professor Ione DeOllos told the AP.

December 12 – Boston Globe reports there are twelve candidates left in the running for UMass president.

December 29 – Grand jury decides there was no wrongdoing on the part of a rookie campus cop who shot an unarmed Ball State student.


January 23 – Ball State faculty members complain about trustee policy, which would not let them meet the new president until after he/she is chosen. AP reports, “To say that we need to respect the confidentiality of finalists who are chosen for this role is just silly,” said Professor Marilyn Flowers.

January 31 – Ball State President Brownell formally steps down, joining an education consulting firm.February 19 – Charges against Van Der Meer dropped by the prosecutor.

March 23 – In a review of Gora’s three years here, an evaluation team led by Trustee Karl White comes to talk to “campus leaders.” The team quickly draws the ire of both Gora supporters and critics for secrecy and length.

March 24 -Wilson selected as permanent UMass president, as some trustees grumble about the process, wishing to have had a chance to meet the candidates before a final decision.

April 2 – Campus Center officially opens with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by President Wilson, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, among others. Unions protest for funding of their contracts.

April 3 – AP reports that Ball State’s presidential search committee met with eight finalists behind closed doors in Chicago over two days the week before.

April 16 – Search committee met at Chicago airport to interview candidates again.

April 19 – Gora visits Lewis & Clark’s campus of 3,000 students.

April 26 – Gora withdraws from Lewis & Clark. The same day a gala, hosted by Gora and celebrating UMass Boston’s new Campus Center, pulls in over half a million dollars.

April 27 – About fifty department heads and program directors sent a letter to the UMass President’s Office and the Board of Trustees urging them to keep Gora. The Star Press reports that Ball State trustees meet at an Indianapolis hotel behind closed doors.

May 1 – Ball State trustees meet behind closed doors in Indianapolis, again, according to The Star Press.

May 7 – Gora gets the job offer from Ball State.

May 10 – E-mail to Gora from The Mass Media requesting comment on her acceptance goes unanswered.

May 11 – Gora leaves for a Ball State press conference in Indiana announcing her as the university’s 13th president.

May 18 – President Wilson meets with UMB senior staff and a small group of faculty to discuss Gora and the direction of the campus.

June 4 – UMass Boston Commencement. Crime novelist Dennis Lehane keynotes.

June 9 – President Wilson meets with the Faculty Council and Urban Mission Coordinating Committee.

August 1 – Gora departs UMass Boston for Ball State.

sources: AP, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, The Muncie Star Press.