You may have seen that the University of Massachusetts Boston has gotten some bad press since last year, and the drama just keeps unfolding. It’s a lot to take in, but here’s a quick primer on what’s going on and what it might mean:
This was supposed to be a recovery year for UMass Boston. They’re experiencing a fiscal crunch that began in 2014 and hit crisis levels in 2017 with a $30 million dollar deficit. Big construction projects, including new nursing and athletic buildings, are now on hold to try and save money.
Former chancellor Keith Motley stepped down due to the pressure from this news. The university recently developed a turnaround plan to reduce spending and was expecting to announce a new chancellor this year as proof of their new direction.
Despite budgetary problems, UMass president Martin T. Meehan purchased the struggling Mount Ida College for $75 million earlier this year, a move that has upset faculty and staff as they’re dealing with layoffs and program cuts. After the purchase was announced, the faculty voted no confidence in Meehan and the board of trustees, arguing that the move would increase inequality in their university system. (UMass Amherst made the purchase of Mt. Ida.)
UMass Boston’s search for a new chancellor recently hit its final stages, and the final three candidates (Kathy Humphrey, Peter Lyons, and Jack Thomas) were vetted and well liked. The faculty were unhappy with this process because they only had two members on the 15-person search committee and wanted more representation. So, in a fairly shocking move, a group of UMass faculty publicly dismissed the three candidates for chancellor as unqualified, and each candidate withdrew.
Instead of acknowledging the faculty’s complaints, Meehan and trustee Henry Thomas III (who headed the search committee) made comments that disparaged them, calling their actions “unconscionable” and “mean spirited.”
State senator Nick Collins told The Boston Globe, “I thought we had three great candidates with unique skills sets and experiences. My hope is that as the process continues, that people who feel like they need to be included are included going forward, but that the process and outcome will not be hijacked by one party or particular interest.”
Now what? State lawmakers are looking to rein in Meehan’s spending and authority over the UMass system. There’s a new interim chancellor, Katherine Newman, who’s taken over from former interim chancellor Barry Mills. It will be a long process to rebuild trust between Meehan and the faculty, and reestablish the university’s credibility, as the budget cuts continue and a new search for chancellor begins.