Meehan Sets Fund-Raising Skills in Motion

03/29/2008
By From the Boston Globe

By Eric Moskowitz, Globe Staff

Martin T. Meehan could always raise money with the best. He left Congress last year with a $5 million campaign fund, the biggest in the House and more than the amount Edward J. Markey, Barney Frank, and William D. Delahunt held combined.

Now, as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Meehan is using his fund-raising clout again, this time to provide money for scholarships and to sponsor a weeklong inaugural.

"We're going to make more money for scholarships than any inauguration of a president has in any college or university, any public college or university, in Massachusetts history," Meehan said. "We're well over half a million now. It's going to go up."

Meehan took over the job in July. On Monday, the school will unveil the "Martin T. Meehan: Vision, Courage, and Service" exhibit at the start of the celebration, which will culminate Friday with a ceremony keynoted by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There's also a $100-a-person inaugural concert and reception, a $1,000-a-head inaugural gala, an inauguration ceremony, and a postinauguration reception.

About 30 companies, charities, and individuals have given at least $10,000 for the cause, including Charles J. Hoff, the $50,000 lead sponsor, and Meehan himself, who gave $10,000. For Hoff, an alumnus who served on the panel that chose Meehan, the gift is in addition to $3 million he contributed last September.

Patricia McCafferty, a spokeswoman for UMass-Lowell, said last night that approximately $650,000 of the money raised will go toward scholarships. Another $50,000 will be used on inaugural events. In addition, the organizers are receiving an in-kind contribution, food costs, of approximately $25,000 from Aramark, a food service company based in Philadelphia.

Donors are being asked to contribute either to a music education endowment or to the Chancellor Martin T. Meehan Educational Excellence Endowment Fund. Meehan, a graduate of UMass-Lowell, wants to build a more diverse student body and to reinforce the local mission of the university, which he said "has a profound effect on individual lives."

"Part of my strategic plan is to aggressively attract a wider breadth of students, and we're going to use this scholarship fund to do that," said Meehan, who left Congress after 7 1/2 terms representing the Fifth District. "We're going to grow," he said.

UMass-Lowell officials are wary of the criticism of past inaugurations in the state. Lawmakers were unhappy about an inaugural week at UMass-Boston in 2006 that cost $512,525, nearly one-fourth of which was paid for with public funding, and featured a dinner of seared scallops and roasted filet of beef at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum.

Next week's event will be different, said McCafferty, cochairwoman of the on-campus inaugural steering committee and public affairs director for UMass-Lowell. With the exception of a reception at LeLacheur Park, every event is being held at campus facilities; most are free and open to the public. The concert features faculty and student performances. The $1,000 gala has no dress code.

The events span the university, like a Graduate School of Education lecture with author and activist Jonathan Kozol and a panel on climate change moderated by television meteorologist Mish Michaels. Some others are yearly university events that have been scheduled to coincide with the inauguration. Campus monitors will flash highlights of student and alumni achievements all week.

Meehan has won praise from university officials for his energetic start as chancellor. In an interview yesterday, he said he finds it easier and more rewarding to solicit donations for a university than for a political bid and not just because there are no campaign-finance restrictions.

"You're appealing in many instances to alums who feel so strongly about the university, and you're really talking and thinking about their legacy," said Meehan.

Drawing from his network of contacts, Meehan is also soliciting people who are not alumni, as well as businesses and charities that have either not contributed to the university before or have contributed smaller amounts. The top inaugural sponsors include Raytheon, the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, and the Demoulas Foundation.

The sponsor list dwarfs the one from the most recent UMass-Amherst inauguration for John V. Lombardi in 2003. Then, one donor, Accenture, gave $25,000 for scholarships, while a handful of corporations and individuals contributed $5,000 or $10,000.

George Behrakis, honorary inaugural cochairman, is one of Lowell's $25,000 sponsors. The 74-year-old Lowell native and pharmaceutical magnate has contributed millions of dollars in recent years to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and Northeastern University, where he is an alumnus and trustee. But Behrakis, who lives 5 miles from UMass-Lowell and has relatives who went there, had been involved with the local school only intermittently in the past. Enter Meehan, to whom Behrakis had contributed more than $11,000 for campaigns.

"If you don't ask, you get nothing," Behrakis said of his philanthropic philosophy. The Tewksbury resident, who sold Muro Pharmaceutical Inc. a decade ago and now invests in real estate and biotech start-ups, said he was happy to support UMass-Lowell because he believes in Meehan's vision.

"I've got full confidence in his ability to really get this school into the top tier," Behrakis said. "Why can't UMass-Lowell flourish? I mean, we have UMass-Amherst, so what? Look at California."

Born out of a merger between Lowell Tech and Lowell State and formerly called the University of Lowell, UMass-Lowell has a reputation for providing quality, affordable higher education to local students. Meehan, who graduated in 1978, was typical: a first-generation college student from a working-class Lowell family.

The school hasn't built an academic building since Meehan was an undergraduate and hasn't added a residence hall since the 1980s. The new chancellor plans to change that. He also wants to increase student aid, boost minority enrollment - 19 percent of undergraduates and 12 percent of graduate students identify themselves as minority - and recruit students from well beyond the Merrimack Valley. He wants to market abroad a school that has an international undergraduate population of 1 percent.

State Representative Kevin J. Murphy criticized the UMass-Boston event two years ago as "ridiculous," akin to "crowning a king."

Murphy, a Lowell Democrat, said this is different. The budgeting, he said, is efficient, and Meehan is a strong fund-raiser.