The Marty Meehan era begins

07/03/2007
By From the Lowell Sun

By Matt Murphy
Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- When Marty Meehan's name was first mentioned as a finalist to become the next chancellor of UMass Lowell, Robert Parkin called UMass President Jack Wilson to express his disappointment.

Parkin, a professor of electrical engineering and the faculty union president, said the university's faculty wanted an academic, not a politician, to take over the chancellorship.

"Wilson couldn't convince me," Parkin said yesterday at a morning reception for the new chancellor. "The man who convinced me I was wrong was Marty Meehan. He's the right man for the job."

Meehan officially took over the reins of his alma mater yesterday, ending a career in Congress that began in 1992.

He becomes the second chancellor of UMass Lowell and the 14th leader of the institution since its founding in the 1890s, succeeding William Hogan, who served as UMass Lowell chancellor for 25 years before retiring last summer.

David MacKenzie served as interim chancellor during the search that ended with Meehan's selection.

Meehan's arrival on campus has sparked a new enthusiasm among faculty and students alike who see Meehan's energy and commitment to the university as something that could propel the university to the next level.

Michael Carter, the university faculty representative to the board of trustees, said he could feel the "can-do spirit" returning to Lowell.

More than 100 faculty and staff turned out yesterday morning, the start of the Fourth of July week, to welcome Meehan to campus, waiting in line to greet the new chancellor at North Campus' Cumnock Hall.

It was the first of three receptions Meehan attended throughout the day on both the North and South campuses, and a sign of things to come, he said, as he plans to be both accessible and open to new ideas and suggestions from the university community.

"The future of this region, I believe, is dependent on us providing the most highly educated, highly skilled students we can. ... We will all do this together," Meehan said, commenting on how impressed he has been with both the new and experienced faculty members.

Meehan laughed when Parkin told the story of his initial skepticism about the former congressman, especially after Parkin used the word "brilliant" to describe Meehan's moves thus far.

"I'm going to remember that quote, Bob," Meehan said.

But it's true that Meehan has been busy in the months leading up to his official move from Washington, D.C., to Pawtucketville.

Meehan has appointed a number of new people from within the university to prominent interim positions in his administration, and will begin two nationwide searches for a provost and vice chancellor of research.

He also worked against the clock with city and university officials to put together a plan that successfully convinced trustees to keep a Division I Hockey East team in Lowell playing at the Tsongas Arena.

"A number of us on the transition team are already feeling a little weary joked," Jacqueline Moloney, dean of corporate education and continuing studies and interim associate chancellor. "We tried to tell him, 'Marty, you're not even here yet.'"

Meehan's here now. And on his first day, it was clear how familiar he already is with UMass Lowell, the areas in which the university excels, and the challenges it faces.

Finding new sources of revenue through fundraising, research grants and other innovations will be critical to UMass Lowell's success, he said.

He also has lofty goals, hoping to break ground on two new academic buildings, including the new nanotechnology center within his first three years.

Following the morning reception at Cumnock Hall, Meehan traveled to South Campus, where he had lunch with 28 students, most of whom are working on campus this summer.

Meehan chatted for about an hour with the students, fielding questions and critiques about parking, transportation between campuses and his accessibility to students.

"It's a big change for the university having such a big name come in and also just to have a new chancellor," said Stephanie Lessard, a 21-year-old math major who graduated this spring and now works at the university.

Meehan told the students there might be days he misses being in Congress. But there won't be many.

"This job is every bit as important as my last job, from my perspective," he said.