Meehan will not be next UM president, search continues

By Sam Butterfield

University of Massachusetts Lowell Chancellor and former seven-term Congressman Martin “Marty” Meehan will not be the next President of the UMass system, as was discussed first by the Boston Globe last week and later by other media outlets.

In a Tuesday letter from Presidential Search Committee Chairman James Karam to other members of the Search Committee obtained by the Collegian, Karam disclosed that Meehan has asked “that his name be withdrawn from consideration as we continue our search for a new President for the University of Massachusetts.”

Discussion began swirling around whether the Search Committee had come to a foregone conclusion in Meehan Nov. 22, when the Globe reported that Gov. Deval Patrick would be meeting with UMass Board of Trustees chairman Robert J. Manning and Karam to ensure the search was fair and that no inside politics were being played.

While Karam did not return several phone calls early in the week, he forwarded the memo he sent to the rest of the Search Committee and Meehan’s correspondence through UMass system spokesman Robert Connolly.

In the letter, Karam, who also served on the Board which appointed President Jack Wilson, expressed displeasure with the former-Congressman’s decision.

“While I understand and respect the Chancellor’s decision, I am saddened that we have lost a distinguished and formidable candidate for this very important position,” he wrote. “Based on his service in Congress and his energetic leadership and strong record of accomplishment of Chancellor of UMass Lowell, Marty Meehan is the kind of candidate that any university in the nation would be eager to include in a presidential search.”

While Karam described Meehan as a “candidate,” other members of the Committee were reluctant to use such precise language in describing any of the names still in the field.

“At the moment there are approximately 15 [names],” said Michael J. Carter, an associate professor of economics at UMass Lowell and one of the 23 members of the Search Committee. “I wouldn’t really call them candidates yet; they’re people with whom we’ve had discussions and, you know, that are still potentially interested and we’re potentially interested.”

“The goal of our Committee is to narrow the field down to three or four candidates that would be, at that point, assuming they’re willing to become official candidates, their names would be reported to the Board of Trustees and made public,” he explained.

While none of the names of the individuals the Committee has contacted have gone public, few, even those inside the UMass system’s administration, expected Meehan’s to reach newspaper pages and airwaves.

“I don’t anticipate more names coming out soon, but I didn’t anticipate Marty’s name coming out, either,” said Connolly in an email late Tuesday.

UMass Student Trustee Mike Fox, however, seemed to think that some names would be public by as early as next week.

“I expect that by the end of the year, finalists will be revealed and people will have a long enough opportunity to get to know these candidates,” he said. “The President sets the tone and direction of the University, and their decisions will trickle down and impact us, and I’m just hoping they keep their word,” he said.

Fox said he hopes the Trustees will inform student and faculty leaders of finalists next week when they visit Amherst for a Trustees’ meeting on Wednesday morning in the Massachusetts Room of the Mullins Center.

“Not only has this been sort of hinted at that we will have this opportunity [to learn finalists’ names], but the Faculty Senate and the SGA, everyone’s expecting it, so if they don’t give enough time for people to talk to these candidates, it would really be an insult to the recognized government bodies of this school,” said Fox.

According to Carter and Connolly, the Search Committee will meet again Dec. 16.

“We’re supposedly going to be meeting in mid-December to make some sort of progress,” said Carter. “As far as I know the pool is still at that size [15],” continued Carter, “we may get all the way down to three or four at that meeting, it’s possible, or we may not be able to get down that far, and we may have to invite some subset of that 15 down back for a second interview.”

As for why Meehan stepped out of the running, he wrote in his letter to Trustee Karam that he would like to keep his focus on the Lowell campus.

“I’ve concluded that my interest remains in running UMass Lowell,” he wrote yesterday. “Therefore, I ask that my name be removed from consideration for president of the system.”

The Globe reported last week that Meehan came out of a preliminary round of interviews with “strong support on the Search Committee,” fueling speculation that the longtime Congressman was becoming a shoe-in for the job before more candidates could be vetted.

The Governor stepped in, Patrick administration sources told the Globe, concerned about political appearances, as he drew fire for appointing a political ally to a senior state post last year, and worried that Meehan’s appointment would reflect negatively on him for promoting an ally.

Last week’s news prompted a backlash of skepticism from some UMass Amherst faculty, who worried this search would end similarly to the one which resulted in Jack Wilson’s appointment in 2004.

Then, according to a March 24, 2004 Board of Trustees minutes document obtained by the Collegian, Wilson was appointed President of the University without an interview before the Board. The Board also did not interview the other finalist for the job, Alan Solmont, who is now the United States’ Ambassador to Spain.

Trustee Robert McCarthy at that meeting asked to submit a motion that “the Board of Trustees take no vote for the President of the University of Massachusetts until the candidates are interviewed by the Board.”

The Chair of the Board at that time, Grace Fey, asked for a vote on McCarthy’s motion, and it was defeated 8-5. Fey then moved to appoint Wilson President of the University, the motion was seconded, and the Board took a vote, with 14 members of the Board approving him, none voting against, and three members taking no vote, reporting they did not have enough information to make a decision.

This move frustrated many in the University community, who felt the Board had not acted in a transparent manner, and the suggestion that Meehan might already have been named ruffled some feathers.

In a Nov. 23 piece in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Faculty Senate President Ernest May said he felt the Committee needed to see the search through.

“Marty Meehan might be a great candidate for the job, but there might be others as well,” the Gazette reported him as saying. May referred phone calls from the Collegian to former Faculty Senate President Max Page in the art and architecture program. Page did not return several calls by press time Tuesday.

In any rate, with Meehan’s withdrawal, the search continues.

“Our search process continues and it is a strong and vital one that has attracted interest from outstanding candidates throughout the nation,” wrote Karam. “Our Committee is scheduled to meet in a little over two weeks, and I am confident that we will be able to move our process forward and, at the appropriate moment, will succeed in our goal of selecting finalist candidates.”

This is a developing story, the Collegian will have more on it as it continues.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]