Committee meets on chancellor search

09/30/2006
By From the Lowell Sun

By ERIK ARVIDSON, Sun Statehouse Bureau
Lowell Sun

BOSTON -- A special panel formed to find a new UMass Lowell chancellor has a clear enough objective: get three high-quality candidates to lead the 11,000-student campus and recommend those to university officials by next spring.

At yesterday's meeting of the 21-member UMass Lowell chancellor search committee, a major focus was on how to accomplish that objective while keeping candidates' names confidential, and not running afoul of the law.

The committee is trying to avoid a repeat of an embarrassing episode by a similar committee two years ago to find a new chancellor for UMass Boston.

In April 2005, two members of a UMass Boston search committee resigned, complaining that confidential information about some of the prospective candidates, as well as committee deliberations, were made public.

"The ensuing politicization of the process and the ways in which the committee's work has been undermined has, in my view, done great damage to the University," UMass Boston economic professor Mary Stevenson wrote in the resignation letter last year.

William T. O'Shea, a UMass trustee who chairs the UMass Lowell chancellor search committee, told the other panel members yesterday that he would ask them all to sign a confidentiality agreement at the committee's next meeting Oct. 24.

O'Shea, a UMass Lowell alumnus, said that it was a "delicate issue," but it had to be done in the interests of allowing candidates to apply for the chancellor position without fear of being exposed and having their current jobs jeopardized.

None of the members of the committee said that they would oppose signing the agreement.

Lawrence T. Bench, the board's general counsel, said that the committee was likely subject to the Open Meeting Law and laws covering public records.

Bench said that the committee would be allowed to go into executive session to discuss applicants who reach the "preliminary" stage, but as soon as the committee had narrowed their list of candidates to a group of "finalists," those meetings would have to be public.

O'Shea also asked that no members discuss deliberations with the public, and to defer media comments to him or Robert Connolly, the spokesman for the UMass president's office.

"We're not trying to gag people or take away people's First Amendment rights," Connolly added.

UMass President Jack Wilson, who plans to allow the committee to meet without his direct involvement, told the panel members that the finalists they recommend should have a wide range of skills.

"You're going to want them to understand the community and to be a partner. You'll want them to understand the role of the faculty and to be sensitive to the students," Wilson said. "They should have good interpersonal skills, and an ability to be a public representative to the local community."

Wilson noted that of UMass' $2.2 billion operating budget, only $435 million came in direct state funds, with the rest made up by fundraising and research grants. "You'd better be a good fundraiser," he said.

UMass Lowell also has a $266 million plan to improve and modernize the campus, and the next chancellor should also be able to oversee capital projects, Wilson said.

The committee also plans to retain a professional firm to assist with collecting resumes and doing initial screening of candidates.

The panel's next meeting is Oct. 24 in Boston. There are also tentative meetings on the UMass Lowell campus with various constituency groups scheduled for Nov. 7 and 8.