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Money woes force Motley out at UMass-Boston

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 4/12/2017, 9:53 a.m.
UMass-Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley announced that he will step down at the end of the academic year, sparking outcry ...
J. Keith Motley Banner file photo

UMass-Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley announced that he will step down at the end of the academic year, sparking outcry from students, community members and elected city and state officials who rallied outside the State House on Saturday. The campus faces an anticipated $30 million deficit and declining enrollment. University trustees moved to curb Motley’s power by handing over daily operations to former Bowdoin College president Barry Mills last month and allowing Motley’s contract to expire.

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Community Response to Keith Motley's exit from UMass Boston

Banner Streaming News anchor, Nangie Williams reports on the community response to the recent exit of Keith Motley from University of Massachusetts, Boston.   Keith has been an inspiring and influential leader in Boston and his dismissal from the state's college has left many questioning what's going on at UMass Boston.

Banner Streaming News anchor, Nangie Williams reports on the community response to the recent exit of Keith Motley from University of Massachusetts, Boston. Keith has been an inspiring and influential leader in Boston and his dismissal from the state's college has left many questioning what's going on at UMass Boston.

Tony Van Der Meer, senior lecturer of Africana Studies, spoke to the Banner several days before the rally. Van Der Meer, like many of Motley’s supporters and others who are watching the situation unfold, says the chancellor is being unfairly blamed for the university’s monetary woes.

“It’s clearly scapegoating of Keith,” Van Der Meer said, noting that Motley was not the sole decision maker in major construction projects that have been blamed for much of the deficit.

Motley’s departure also is charged because it removes a person of color from a highly visible position of authority.

“[Motley]’s had a terrific impact, particularly in the community to have him as a role model and see that’s really possible,” Van Der Meer said.

“This is starting to feel like a systemic attack against black leadership,” Tanisha Sullivan, NAACP president, said at the Saturday rally.

State Rep. Russell Holmes and City Councilors Tito Jackson and Ayanna Pressley also turned out to the rally.

On Wednesday of last week, Motley met with Martin Meehan, UMass president. That evening, university officials announced that Motley would be stepping down. He is expected to leave on June 30, take a year of sabbatical, and then return to campus as a tenured faculty member. In that role, he will be paid $240,000, down from the $422,000 he received last year as chancellor. On July 1, Mills will become interim chancellor, but will not be a candidate for the permanent position.

Motley and Meehan did not respond to requests for comment.

Finger-pointing

Blame for UMass’s financial deficit largely has been placed on the university’s ambitious building projects. Van Der Meer said Motley appears to be taking the fall for plans that passed through many decisionmakers.

“The board [of trustees] knew what was going on and approved it. The president knew and he approved it,” Van Der Meer said.

Budgeting and construction decisions also involve approval from the UMass Building Authority and state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.

Van Der Meer and Zac Bears, executive director of Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM), say another major contributor to the budget problems is the state legislature, which has provided less and less public higher education funding.

According to Bears, it is unclear to what extent, if any, the university’s large construction projects impacted the campus budget. The UMass Building Authority and private partners funded much of the work, he said. The new dorms were funded via a private-public partnership, with the private builder taking on all of the costs and risk, Bears said, and the new science building is funded by the UMass Building Authority through the 2008 higher education bond bill.