Governor Romney admits possible wrongdoing

By Ken Maguire

Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) – Gov. Mitt Romney said Tuesday he “may have been wrong” to not invite University of Massachusetts President William Bulger to a meeting of chancellors – a meeting that was canceled when school officials refused to attend.

Romney, who has proposed eliminating Bulger’s office in his plan to restructure public higher education, said the meeting was intended to get the chancellors’ opinions on the proposal.

“President Bulger made his position so clear, it didn’t seem that it would lend to an open flow and a dialogue if he were at that particular meeting,” Romney said.

“We may have been wrong on that, who knows,” he said. “It struck me that this was a good chance for them to speak without having President Bulger there.”

Bulger has likened Romney’s restructuring plan to a “corporate takeover.” Bulger had alluded to the governor’s personal wealth in claiming that he doesn’t understand the importance of state colleges to lower-income residents.

Romney on Tuesday called the comments “quite personal,” but pledged to meet with Bulger to discuss ideas other than the elimination of the president’s office.

“He’s made it clear he thinks that’s a bad idea,” Romney said. “I probably don’t need to meet with him to understand that. Other ideas, about capital spending for instance, that’s something I’d like to get his perspective on.”

A capital spending meeting is upcoming, Romney said, adding “Certainly President Bulger should be part of that meeting.”

Bulger spokesman John Hoey said they are open to “any thoughtful discussion.

“The president is willing and happy to collaborate and work with the governor and the Legislature in assuring that the University of Massachusetts and higher education have a bright future,” Hoey said.

Bulger, whose $309,000-a-year job would be eliminated under Romney’s plan, was not invited to Wednesday’s meeting.

Grace Fey, chairwoman of the university’s board of trustees, sent a letter to Romney last Friday, stating that she and vice chairman William Giblin and the five chancellors would not attend the meeting without Bulger.

Romney says the state would save $14 million eliminating the UMass presidency and system administration. The proposal is part of his plan to save a total of $100 million in higher education spending to help close a $3 billion state deficit.

It also would diminish the research missions of the Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell campuses, the College of Art and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy would be spun off and independently run and UMass Medical School in Worcester would be privatized.

Romney on Monday called off the chancellors’ conference just hours before he met with the leaders of the state’s nine public colleges, who expressed concerns about the governor’s plans to reorganize the system.

Romney noted Tuesday that Bulger has pledged to slash $40 million – $7 million more than the governor’s proposal – from the UMass budget.

“It proves our number wasn’t as aggressive as it should have been. We’ll adopt his number right away,” Romney said.