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Mount Ida Trustees Breached Fiduciary Duties, State Senator Says Senate Report Will Find

A car drives past the Mount Ida College sign on Carlson Avenue in Newton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A car drives past the Mount Ida College sign on Carlson Avenue in Newton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
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A Massachusetts Senate report on Mount Ida College is expected to find that the college's board of trustees violated its fiduciary duties in its abrupt decision to close down the school.

A draft copy of the report on the leadership of the small, private liberal arts school is circulating among state senators now.

State Sen. Kathleen O'Connor Ives, chairperson of the branch's Post Audit and Oversight Committee, told WBUR in a telephone interview Thursday the committee's official report will be out next week — likely around June 20.

O'Connor Ives, a Newburyport Democrat, said she is hopeful Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey will investigate several of the moves made by the school's trustees before its closure. The sudden demise of the 118-year-old Newton college, as well as its deal to sell its 70-plus acres to the University of Massachusetts, caused a wave of outrage among students, parents, faculty and community members.

After approving the sale of the campus in May, Healey announced that month her office would launch a probe.

Among the issues O'Connor Ives wants the office to look at: the trustees' conflicts of interest, as reported to the committee by Mount Ida Board Chair Carmin Reiss at a recent hearing; its lack of transparency in communicating the college's financial troubles sooner; and its decision to back out of a deal with Lasell College. At the same hearing, Lasell President Michael Alexander testified the deal the schools brokered would have saved Mount Ida.

"During our hearing, the testimony that was presented by the chairwoman of Mount Ida was in direct conflict with the later testimony presented by the president of Lasell," said O'Connor Ives.

She added that it was "very interesting" to hear Chair Reiss testify that stepping away from the Lasell agreement was a decision made in "the students' best interest," while later hearing Lasell officials claim the deal would have "kept the school open and operational."

O'Connor Ives said the final report will recommend all Massachusetts colleges turn in their annual audited financial statements to Healey's office by Nov. 30 each year. Currently, schools must deliver them by May 15. Had Mount Ida turned in this information by the now-recommended date, she said, students and parents would have had more warning of its closure.

The report, she said, will also recommend the sold Mount Ida campus be available to all UMass students — not just those attending UMass Amherst. A significant part of the initial controversy in the days after the sale centered on whether or not UMass Boston students would have access to the campus resources.

UMass has since said that students from all its campuses would benefit from the acquisition — not just its flagship university.

Another recommendation in the Senate report, O'Connor Ives said, will be that UMass Amherst make permanent the veterinary technician program Mount Ida had offered. As part of the schools' deal, UMass Amherst says it will continue Mount Ida students' studies in that subject but then close the program once they graduate.

Neither Reiss, UMass Amherst, nor the attorney general's office immediately returned requests for comment.


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