Special Interests

10/05/2008
By From the Boston Globe

Marty Meehan, 51, who left Congress last year to become Chancellor of UMass Lowell, compares how Washington and academia are alike and talks about Ted Kennedy's job.

By Geoff Edgers 

This is a pretty exciting time to be in American politics. Do you ever regret leaving your seat or wish you were still in Washington?

No, not at all. I served and enjoyed my service, but I served for 15 years. I was ready. I haven't regretted it one day.

Washington and academia must have pretty different cultures. Any similarities?

I often kid that there are a lot of similarities - debate and more debate and then more discussion and more debate, a lot of arguing about a lot of issues. It's just the stakes in Washington are war and peace and the stakes on campus are parking and cost-of-living increases.

Where are people meaner?

I think politics can be much meaner. Politics on a campus can be pretty intense and the stakes can be very, very high. The reality is it's not quite so public.

You get paid a lot more to be chancellor than you did as a congressman. Is that why you left?

I had other opportunities that paid a lot more than this. But I had a passion for the university that I graduated from, in the hometown I grew up in. Most members of Congress who leave on their own make a lot more money than the chancellor of UMass Lowell.

You came to UMass Lowell in, what, 1974?

I don't know that I would have had an opportunity to go to college if UMass Lowell wasn't in my backyard.

Why?

I paid for 100 percent of my college. I worked as a janitor for at least two years. But even when I wasn't working there, I worked on weekends at the Lowell Sun, and it would have been difficult but for the fact the university was in my backyard.

The working your way through school as a janitor thing doesn't really work now.

There's a reason. Ninety percent of the budget of the university, when I was a student, was paid for by state appropriation. Now the number is 37 percent.

Is there anything people don't know about you?

I love sports on the campus. My sons come to all the hockey games.

That's not exactly revelatory.

I love New England Patriots football. I attend every game and actually attend away games. I follow the NFL so closely in the sense that I know which players have how many years on their contracts. I know the visiting team gets 40 percent of the revenue on the gate. I know how the salary cap works and why players in the last year of their contract become salary cap casualties. That's kind of weird, isn't it?

How long do you expect to stay at the university?

You know, when I got here I signed a three-year contract. It's clear to me it takes longer than three years. My guess would be five to seven.

With Senator Ted Kennedy sick, there's a chance that his seat could open up. Would you ever consider running?

I'm not leaving until I have an impact here. In one year, we've accomplished a lot. Enrollment is up, and that means revenue is up. The number of new freshman and transfer students are up. I think the thing I'm most proud of is that the number of people of color are up 40 percent.

So no plans for a Senate run?

I'm focused on what I'm doing, and that requires five to seven years.