Dear UMass Boston Community,
It is with profound disappointment that I write to inform you that all three finalists recommended by the UMass Boston Chancellor Search Committee have withdrawn from consideration, bringing to an unceremonious end a seven-month search process.
I feel obligated to explain why this happened and where we go next.
Following the campus visits by the three finalists last week, the UMass Boston Faculty Council decided to take their dissatisfaction with the candidates public, questioning the personal and professional qualifications of three accomplished higher education leaders and demonstrating that the faculty council would not participate in the kind of partnership necessary for a new chancellor to succeed. Over the weekend, all three candidates informed me of their extreme disappointment with those actions and that they were no longer interested in being considered to lead the campus as chancellor.
In asking the candidates to visit Columbia Point and meet with campus stakeholders, I was seeking confidential feedback from the campus community that would help me determine which of the three I should recommend to the Board of Trustees to be the next UMass Boston chancellor. I was mortified when the candidates’ commitment and qualifications were questioned in public forums, including the news media and social media. I have apologized personally to each of them on behalf of the campus community. I know the majority of you do not support the sensationalized critiques of these candidates’ professional and academic qualifications and accomplishments.
I want to express my personal thanks and appreciation to the three distinguished individuals for their willingness to subject themselves to this uniquely public process. To have done so takes a special kind of courage and resilience that will always speak well of their strength of character and devotion to the mission of public higher education.
Accompanying the criticism of the candidates was criticism of the search process. I want to be sure the campus community understands how much work the search committee did to try to find a new leader for the campus.
Over more than seven months, the search committee – supported by one of our country’s most respected executive search firms, Isaacson, Miller – considered 195 candidates. Preliminary interviews were conducted with 37 candidates, and 10 candidates participated in full committee interviews. After an exhaustive, rigorous review, the committee ultimately chose three finalists to forward for consideration.
In search committee Chairman Henry Thomas III, the UMass Boston community was served diligently and thoughtfully by a former chairman and current member of the UMass Board of Trustees, former member of the Board of Higher Education and nationally respected civic leader.
In Freeman A. Hrabowski III, our distinguished consultant, the search committee had the guidance of a university president who has transformed the University of Maryland, Baltimore County from a commuter school to a national model of urban higher education. Dr. Hrabwoski, named one of America’s 10 Best College Presidents and one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by TIME magazine, personally recruited many of the candidates in the pool.
The search committee itself reflected a broad variety of points of view and backgrounds. It was the most diverse search committee in the history of UMass. It comprised 15 dedicated UMass advocates, including UMass Boston faculty, alumni, students and community supporters.
I want to thank the committee for their commitment of time and energy to this process and apologize that their work did not result in the selection of a new chancellor.
So where do we go from here?
Some have called for the reopening of the search process. I have consulted with Isaacson, Miller, our esteemed search consultant Freeman Hrabowski, and colleagues across higher education and I am assured that reopening the search at this point would be a futile exercise. The search just completed was both exhaustive and comprehensive. Every avenue was pursued. Both traditional and non-traditional candidates were considered. There is no untapped pool of talent awaiting a call. But perhaps more significant, the very public way this search came to an end, with three finalists all withdrawing in the face of public opposition from members of the campus, renders a new search untenable at this time.
As you know, Interim Chancellor Mills has indicated his intention to step down at the conclusion of this academic year. I have asked Dr. Katherine Newman, UMass Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, to succeed him as interim chancellor. I am thrilled that she has agreed to accept the appointment.
Dr. Newman brings extraordinary qualifications and experience to this role. A named chair in Sociology and elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Newman is the former provost at UMass Amherst, the former dean of Johns Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, a former member of the faculty at Harvard, Princeton and Columbia, and the author of 15 books. Much of her academic research and writing has focused on issues that are at the very heart of UMass Boston’s mission: social and educational mobility, the challenges faced by the working poor, and the tectonic shifts in the workplace that are driving economic insecurity and increasing inequality.
Dr. Newman is a world-class academic and an accomplished higher education administrator who will bring incredible experience and insight to UMass Boston. She has a well-deserved reputation as an innovator with a passion for faculty research, undergraduate and graduate student success, and a keen understanding of the role that staff play in making any university thrive.
The work Chancellor Mills and his leadership team have done to bring the budget into balance, move several complicated construction projects to completion and generate unprecedented demand for a UMass Boston education – as demonstrated in enrollment projections for Fall 2018 – gives Dr. Newman a very solid foundation upon which to build. I am confident that Dr. Newman will be laser-focused on academic excellence and meaningful engagement with students to ensure they are succeeding and taking their rightful place in a knowledge economy anxious to receive them. Those who know her well, as I do, will not be surprised at Dr. Newman’s capacity to hit the ground running or her desire to work with all parties to move UMass Boston forward on a rapid timetable.
In the coming weeks, Dr. Newman will spend time familiarizing herself with the Boston campus at close range in order to develop a full understanding of the needs of students, faculty and staff. She has told me that her highest priority will be extensive consultations with all campus constituencies. I look forward to working closely with her to ensure that this next period of interim leadership, which will begin when Chancellor Mills steps down at the end of June, is maximally productive.
Dr. Newman has committed to serving as interim chancellor for as long as needed. In my judgment, the campus community needs time to put the unfortunate outcome of this search behind it and restore the kind of trust and decorum needed for an effective search to unfold. In consultation with the Board of Trustees, I will consider an appropriate timeframe to return to a search for a permanent chancellor.
I want to thank Dr. Newman for accepting this appointment and encourage the entire UMass community to embrace her as she begins this transition to interim chancellor.
I remain fully committed to ensuring UMass Boston’s success and believe that no campus is better positioned for progress in the near future.
Martin T. Meehan