All 3 Finalists For UMass Boston Chancellor Withdraw

University of Massachusetts Boston. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)
University of Massachusetts Boston. (Joe Difazio for WBUR)

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan has informed UMass Boston faculty, students and staff that all three finalists for the position of chancellor of the urban campus have withdrawn from consideration.

"I feel obligated to explain why this happened and where we go next," Meehan said in a letter Monday, which he said he was writing "with profound disappointment."

The withdrawals come after UMass Boston faculty members questioned the qualifications of the three candidates.

The UMass search committee had selected as finalists: Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement and secretary of the Board of Trustees at the University of Pittsburgh; Peter Lyons, vice provost and dean of Perimeter College at Georgia State University; and Jack Thomas, president of Western Illinois University.

In a statement to Meehan, faculty had said the finalists "do not have the skills, experience, or values" to lead the institution. They also said the search process was "deeply problematic."

"I was mortified when the candidates' commitment and qualifications were questioned in public forums," Meehan said in his letter. "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 achievements."

Meehan said the search committee spent more than seven months considering 195 candidates before selecting the three finalists. He said members of the committee interviewed 37 candidates, and 10 candidates participated in interviews with the full committee.

Meehan said the committee's consultant, Freeman Hrabowski -- who as president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has transformed that school into what Meehan called "a national model of urban higher education" -- personally recruited many of the candidates for UMass Boston.

Meehan has now suspended the search for a new chancellor.

"[T]he 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," Meehan said.

Meehan announced Monday he's appointed Katherine Newman, UMass' senior vice president for academic affairs, as interim chancellor "for as long as needed" when the current interim chancellor, Barry Mills, steps down at the end of June.

"[T]he 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," Meehan said. "I will consider an appropriate timeframe to return to a sarch for a permanent chancellor."

In a statement, search committee Chairman Henry Thomas also took issue with faculty members' questioning of the finalists:

We find it particularly appalling that a faculty council representing a majority-minority campus but lacking a single African-American member would visit such disrespect and calumny on one of the country's few African-American sitting college presidents, a top African-American female university leader and an academic administrator from an institution that graduates more African-Americans than any college or university in the country.

The unprofessional conduct of a small segment of the UMass Boston community is unconscionable and disrespectful and the misrepresentation of the candidates' qualifications and capabilities is nothing less than shameful and mean spirited. This petulant behavior will inflict long-lasting damage on UMass Boston's reputation and future ability to recruit the academic and administrative leaders we need at UMass Boston.

Heike Schotten, an associate professor of political science at UMass Boston and associate chair of the Faculty Council, said it was not the council that objected to the candidates, but an ad hoc group of 150 to 200 faculty members.

"I was really troubled by Henry Thomas's response, mostly because it was filled with an enormous number of errors and a lot of insults and disrespect to us as a faculty," Schotten said. "He basically accuses us of anti-black racism, all of which I find to be outrageous behavior on his part. I don't remember Mr. Thomas once speaking to faculty, talking to us, reaching out to us, having a conversation with us."

Schotten said African-American members of the faculty were among those who drafted the letter objecting to the three finalists.

This article was originally published on May 21, 2018.


Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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