UMass Presidents

William M. Bulger, 1996-2003

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William M. Bulger, 1996-2003

William M. Bulger served as the 24th president of the University of Massachusetts from January 4, 1996 to September of 2003. 

Under President Bulger's leadership, the five-campus University saw dramatic increases in private support, alumni activity, research funding, and the academic scores of incoming freshmen.  President Bulger also launched an award-winning television advertising campaign featuring prominent alumni and a scholarship program that rewards students who finish at the top of their high school graduating class.

President Bulger's appointment by the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees followed his 35-year career as a leading state lawmaker.  From 1978 to 1996, he served as President of the Massachusetts Senate, elected every two years by his colleagues.  His tenure as President was the longest in state history.

He was first elected to the Senate in 1970 representing the First Suffolk District.  Prior to serving in the Senate, he served in the House of Representatives from 1961 to 1970.  Throughout his legislative career, Mr. Bulger played a pivotal leadership role in issues that shaped the physical, cultural and social landscapes of Massachusetts.

During the 1960s, he led efforts to write the first child abuse reporting laws in this state and during the following three decades continued to focus much of his attention on the plight of children.  He was one of the architects of a groundbreaking education reform law that reduced the funding inequities between rich and poor communities.  He was among the first advocates of charter schools and public school choice.  During the 1980s, he made funding of public libraries a top priority and also advocated for the expansion of childhood nutrition services and fuel assistance programs.

Under Mr. Bulger's leadership, Boston Common and the Public Garden were beautified and protected.  He secured funding to keep both parks well lit at night, and he led the fight for a law prohibiting the building of any skyscraper that would cast a shadow upon either.  He also won funding to beautify Castle Island in South Boston and preserve the 19th-century fort there, while also securing funds to help clean up the Boston Harbor.

President Bulger led the Senate through its debate on welfare reform in the early 1990s, often reminding lawmakers that "after we have eaten, we forget there is such a thing as hunger.''  The resulting legislation, less punitive than some hoped, became the model for a national law.

Mr. Bulger is a past president of the Boston Public Library Board of Trustees and continues to serve on the board.  He is also Overseer Emeritus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

He is a former member of the Massachusetts General Hospital Board of Trustees, Museum of Fine Arts Board of Trustees, McLean Hospital Board of Trustees and Citizens Bank of Massachusetts Board of Directors.  He is also a former overseer of the Children's Museum in Boston and former corporator of The Winsor School in Boston.

Upon his graduation from Boston College High School in 1952, President Bulger enrolled at Boston College.  His undergraduate career was interrupted when he joined the United States Army in 1953.  He returned to Boston College in 1955 and completed his undergraduate degree in English in 1958.  He then entered Boston College Law School, from which he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence degree in 1961.

Known for his independence of mind, regardless of the political consequences, President Bulger has been singled out for special recognition by one of the Commonwealth's most prestigious institutions.  In bestowing its 50th Anniversary Award upon President Bulger, Boston College Law School described him as one "whose career reflects great honor on the Law School."
President Bulger is the recipient of more than 20 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning.

Mr. Bulger is the author of the best selling political memoir, "While the Music Lasts: My Life in Politics."

He was born on February 2, 1934, the son of James and Jane (McCarthy) Bulger.

In 1960 he married Mary Foley.  He continues to make his home in South Boston where he and his wife of 48 years have raised their nine children: William, James, Sarah, Patrick, Mary, Daniel, Kathleen, Christopher and Brendan.

There are now 31 grandchildren: Bridget Bulger, Monica Bulger, Michael Hurley, Deirdre Hurley, Mary Hurley, Charles Webb, Ian Webb, Alannah Bulger, Christopher Bulger, James Hurley, Patrick Bulger, Thomas Bulger, William Webb, Grace Bulger, Elizabeth Hurley, Mary Kate Bulger, Brendan Webb, Margaret Bulger, Jean Marie Bulger, Daniel Bulger, Brian William Bulger, Evelyn Hurley, Claire Bulger, Andrew Webb, Katherine Bulger, Michael Patrick Bulger, Eleanor Bulger, Phoebe Jane Piscatelli, Declan Webb, Finola Hurley and William M. Bulger.

University of Massachusetts Presidents 1864-present