Robert E. Johnson named chancellor of UMass Dartmouth

March 7, 2017

Robert E. Johnson named chancellor of UMass Dartmouth

Johnson praised as innovative leader with entrepreneurial spirit

Robert E. Johnson
Robert E. Johnson

BOSTON – Lauded as a visionary leader with a demonstrated commitment to innovation, academic excellence and the transformative power of higher education, Robert E. Johnson today was named chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth by a unanimous vote of the UMass Board of Trustees.

Johnson, president of Becker College since 2010, was recommended for the UMass Dartmouth chancellorship by UMass President Marty Meehan.

“Robert Johnson is an accomplished, visionary leader with an entrepreneurial spirit and a proven commitment to student success,” said Meehan. “He has developed innovative strategies that have revitalized institutions and transformed lives, and I am confident he will help UMass Dartmouth reach new levels of excellence.”

Under Johnson’s leadership, Becker College was named one of the “best institutions for undergraduate education” by The Princeton Review for five consecutive years.  He is credited with increasing enrollment to record levels, improving student success and elevating the reputation of the college.

“I am humbled and honored to be named chancellor of UMass Dartmouth and am truly thrilled to be a part of the world-class UMass system,” said Johnson. “I look forward to working with President Meehan as well as the faculty, staff and students of UMass Dartmouth.”

Johnson, who will be the first African-American to lead UMass Dartmouth, is a member of the state Board of Higher Education, vice chairman of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Board and chair of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a win for UMass Dartmouth, the SouthCoast region and the entire UMass system,” said Robert Manning, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees. “In Robert Johnson we have a world-class leader who will be committed to achieving UMass Dartmouth’s strategic goals and ushering this vibrant university into a new era of success and achievement.” 

“We aimed high and attracted some excellent candidates, but Robert Johnson clearly stood out from the pack,” said Trustee R. Norman Peters, chair of the UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Search Committee. “We were impressed by his obvious passion for higher education, his consistent record of achievement and his ability to accomplish key objectives — from growing revenues to increasing graduation rates — all while keeping his pulse on the day-to-day student experience. We believe he will be a boon for UMass Dartmouth and the entire SouthCoast region.”

A native of Detroit, Mich., Johnson holds a doctorate in higher education administration from Touro University International, a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Cincinnati and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Morehouse College. Prior to becoming Becker College’s president, he served as senior vice president of Sinclair Community College, vice president of enrollment management at the University of Dayton, vice provost at Oakland University and executive director of enrollment management at Central State University.

“This is an exciting new chapter for me and my family, though it is a bittersweet time, as I have very much enjoyed spending the past seven years at Becker College, and being part of the vibrant Worcester community,” said Johnson. “I am looking forward to this new post; however, for the next few weeks, I remain committed to advancing the Becker College value proposition and to supporting the staff and students there through Commencement.”

Prior to voting to appoint Johnson chancellor of the Dartmouth campus, members of the Board of Trustees praised the selection.

“He has a commitment to preparing young people for successful careers in a rapidly changing economy,” said Secretary of Education Jim Peyser, a UMass trustee. “He has a strong sense of what is required, not just academically but in terms of personal preparation for success in an economy and a world that is changing so rapidly.”

“He is a tremendous talent and a great leader and a phenomenal human being. What he achieved at Becker during his tenure has been absolutely [nothing] less than remarkable,” said Trustee Henry Thomas. “He’s respected highly by the institution that he served as well as the people in the community and the whole region, really. He’s a dynamite individual.”

“Our futures are inextricably tied when it comes to institutions in the broader community and the region, and he believes in mutually assured successes, and I think that says a lot about his personality,” said Trustee Michael O’Brien, former Worcester City Manager. “His enthusiasm is contagious. … He’s a special person. … He sets out a vision, a plan for the institution. And he leads by example.”

Addressing the trustees, Johnson became emotional reflecting on the moment.

“This is an honor for me for a number of reasons, but most importantly for my dad,” said Johnson. “When I was a young boy, he used to talk about the University of Massachusetts. The greatest joy was when I called him last night and told him I was coming here.”

The search process

A 16-member committee comprising students, faculty, alumni, staff, community representatives and members of the UMass Board of Trustees was formed in September 2016 to help select a new chancellor for UMass Dartmouth.

The search committee sought input on the qualifications and characteristics considered important in the new chancellor, advertised the position nationally and retained the Boston-based executive recruitment firm Isaacson, Miller to assist in the search.

As part of the process, the search committee held open public forums at UMass Dartmouth and in Fall River and New Bedford. Peters, the committee chairman, said the message from those forums was clear: The community wanted a chancellor who was committed to the campus and willing to be fully engaged in the SouthCoast region.

In addition to the public forums, the search committee held five formal business meetings.

Throughout the course of the search process, Isaacson, Miller communicated with 165 prospective candidates, interviewed 40 candidates and presented the credentials of those candidates to the search committee. The committee chose to interview 12 candidates, leading to a designation of three finalists: Johnson, along with James P. Lentini, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Oakland University (Mich.), and Philip K. Way, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at Slippery Rock University.

Each of the finalists met with President Meehan and visited the UMass Dartmouth campus to meet with various members of the community.

Meehan considered feedback submitted by the campus community in making his recommendation.

“The committee set out to find candidates who had strong records of higher education leadership, were effective communicators and expressed a willingness to become deeply engaged in the SouthCoast community,” said Meehan. “Based on that criteria, the clear choice to lead UMass Dartmouth is Dr. Robert Johnson.”

UMass Dartmouth

UMass Dartmouth, the state’s only research university south of Boston, was recently designated as a doctoral level research institution by the national Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education and ranked as a top tier university by U.S. News & World Report, making UMass one of the few university systems to have all of its undergraduate campuses so acclaimed.

With a long tradition of civic engagement and commitment to the SouthCoast region, UMass Dartmouth is rated among the top 1 percent of universities and colleges nationwide on the President’s National Education Honor Roll for Community Service, with students contributing more than 230,000 hours of community service annually.

In addition to the 710-acre Dartmouth campus, other university sites include the School for Marine Science and Technology on the waterfront in New Bedford, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Fall River, the School of Law in Dartmouth and the College of Visual and Performing Arts in downtown New Bedford.

UMass Dartmouth employs more than 1,400 people, creates more than 2,800 non-university jobs and has an economic impact measured at $517 million.

Additional praise for the selection of Becker College President Robert E. Johnson as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth:

Governor Charlie Baker:
“Robert Johnson has worked tirelessly to bring about change and improvements to the institutions he has served as a leader in higher education. We recognized his commitment to excellence in education in appointing him to the Board of Higher Education and commend President Meehan and the UMass trustees for their choice today.”

Lt. Governor Karyn Polito: 
“Robert Johnson’s influential leadership at Becker College and throughout his career has been an inspiration to many in the greater Worcester area who have seen his dedication to strengthening ties between our economy and education system and connecting students with emerging Massachusetts’ industries. Robert understands the powerful impact education has on our students, and I look forward to him bringing the same enthusiasm, energy and commitment to his new role as the leader of UMass Dartmouth.”

Timothy P. Murray, president and CEO, Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce and former lieutenant governor:
“Robert Johnson is a dynamic leader who, through hard work and collaboration, has transformed Becker College into a national leader on several fronts. Robert’s brand of can do leadership has had a profound and positive impact on Worcester and Central Massachusetts – including as chair of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce board of directors. While he will be missed, I know he will be an incredible asset for UMass Dartmouth, its students and faculty, and the entire SouthCoast.”

James J. Karam, former chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees and member of the UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Search Committee:
“As a search committee, we were fortunate to have a very deep and diverse pool of candidates, which speaks highly of UMass Dartmouth and its future. Within that excellent pool, Dr. Johnson stood out as a leader of high energy and entrepreneurial spirit. He also recognizes the critical role that UMass Dartmouth must play in the socio-economic development of the Commonwealth and especially the region.”

Margaret D. Xifaras, former UMass trustee:
“As a resident of the region, former trustee and an alumna of UMass Dartmouth, I congratulate President Meehan and the Board of Trustees on the selection of Dr. Johnson. He will come to the region with great experience at diverse levels of higher education and with a passion for empowering people and communities through education. Welcome to the South Coast, Dr. Johnson. I look forward to working with you.”

Laurie A. Leshin, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI): 
“UMass Dartmouth is to be commended for their brilliant selection of Robert Johnson as Chancellor. Since my arrival at WPI, Chancellor-designate Johnson has been my close colleague, and I can personally attest to his vision, commitment and capability to advance an institution during a time of transformational change in higher education. Although I will miss him as my neighborly collaborator, I'm so pleased we will keep his great talent in our Commonwealth.”

David Angel, president of Clark University:
“President Johnson has been a visionary leader at Becker College and in the Worcester community. With a strong focus on student success, President Johnson’s many accomplishments are a testimony to what can be achieved through effective university leadership in today’s knowledge-based economy. He is a dynamic, collaborative leader who embraces the responsibility of service to students, faculty and staff and to the many diverse communities of which we are a part.”

Peyton R. Helm, interim chancellor of UMass Dartmouth:
“I welcome Robert Johnson to UMass Dartmouth, a university distinguished by a deep commitment to students, an exciting research agenda and an unparalleled connection to the community. His breadth of leadership experience and demonstrated belief in education as the primary driver of individual and community success will help UMass Dartmouth build on more than a century of service to the Commonwealth and region.”

Michael F. Collins, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School:
“I applaud the University’s President and Board of Trustees on their selection of Robert E. Johnson as the next chancellor of the Dartmouth campus. Johnson’s tenure in Worcester’s robust community of higher education institutions has been marked by exceptional leadership, high standards, service to the greater Worcester community and a collaborative spirit. We at the medical school are confident that his talents and leadership will benefit the Dartmouth community in the years to come, and we look forward to partnering with him as he undertakes these new responsibilities.”

Jacqueline F. Moloney, chancellor of UMass Lowell:
“I am pleased to welcome Robert Johnson to the UMass system and look forward to working with him and his team at UMass Dartmouth to advance public higher education, research and economic development.”

J. Keith Motley, chancellor of UMass Boston:
“I am so pleased that President Meehan and the UMass Board of Trustees have selected Robert Johnson to lead our sister campus in Dartmouth. Robert brings the deep experience and forward-looking leadership that will reinvigorate UMass Dartmouth and help to make our entire system an even stronger institution of higher education.”

Kumble Subbaswamy, chancellor of UMass Amherst:
"Dr. Johnson brings a remarkable record of achievement to his new role as chancellor of the Dartmouth campus. He is a respected leader in in higher education who has made a real, transformative difference in the lives of students. I look forward to working with him as he brings UMass Dartmouth to new heights."

Jean MacCormack, former UMass Dartmouth Chancellor and president of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate:
“Dr. Johnson is innovative and entrepreneurial, and with his leadership I am confident that UMass Dartmouth will write an exciting new chapter in its history. The university's ascension to research university status, national Tier One designation, recognition as one of the top civic engagement universities in the country and ABA accreditation of the law school provide strong cornerstones to build upon.”

Arthur P. (Jay) DiGeronimo Jr., chair, Becker College Board of Trustees:
“Under Dr. Johnson’s leadership, Becker College has grown, thrived and proven itself as an institution that has realized exceptional outcomes. Dr. Johnson’s future-oriented leadership, energy and full embrace of his office have inspired the entire Board of Trustees, and the entire Becker community, and have made the charge of helping ensure Becker’s future an exciting one. We thank him for his exceptional commitment and service to Becker College and congratulate him on this wonderful new opportunity to lead a world-class institution.”

Michael Angelini, chairman, Bowditch & Dewey, LLP, Worcester:
“This is a superb selection. The Board has chosen a smart, proven leader who is extremely able and who is passionately committed to educational excellence. Dr. Johnson's impact at Becker College has been transformational and his engagement as a leader of the Worcester community reflects a broad commitment to improvement at every level. Without any doubt, the Commonwealth will be very well served.”

Susan M. Mailman, owner and president of Coghlin Electrical Contractors, Inc. and Coghlin Network Services, Inc., Worcester, and chair, Quinsigamond Community College Board of Trustees:
“I have been very fortunate to work closely with Dr. Johnson during his tenure at Becker College. He has been a tremendous asset to our community. UMass Dartmouth students, the region and the UMass system will benefit from his vision and passion. I'm glad he won't be too far away.”      

Mark W. Fuller, chairman and treasurer of the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation, and vice president, Risk Strategies Company:
“As a transformational leader, Robert E. Johnson has proven a tremendous asset to our region, and I congratulate him on his new position. I expect that UMass Dartmouth, the University of Massachusetts and the SouthCoast region will reap the many rewards of his able leadership.”