Search team weighs profile for next UMass Boston chancellor

A good administrator who can also be a public figure, navigating the political circles of Boston and Massachusetts. A visionary leader who's excited to be part of change and can inspire a diverse student body. The Bill Belichick of public research universities.

Three weeks into their bid to hire the next leader of the University of Massachusetts Boston, search committee members on Wednesday discussed what they're looking for, before sitting down to privately review a list of 160 people identified as potential candidates.

It's the second attempt to pick a new permanent chancellor for the school, after an effort last year collapsed when the three finalists all withdrew from consideration.

Points raised by the 21-member committee during its second meeting included gathering input from stakeholders at the Dorchester campus, considering candidates from diverse and non-traditional backgrounds, and finding someone who can move the university forward.

"Let's not be afraid to get Belichick, right," committee member Robert Lewis Jr., the founder and president of The Base, said. "What I mean is that all of a sudden everybody wants that person, because he took a franchise that sucked and what he did is he built one of the greatest franchises in sports history, and I say that to be serious. This is the opportunity that we have with somebody that really, really wants to be here."

Lewis added, "If we're doing this right, UMass Dartmouth, Lowell and Amherst are going to be pissed off, and I say that in the most loving way."

The committee held listening sessions at the UMass Boston campus last week.

UMass Boston student Kahrim Wade said one comment that stood out to him from the sessions and has become his "theme" is that the university is looking for "a defender of the campus and its mission"

Former Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez said he wasn't able to stay for the whole day on campus but appreciated the time committee members put in, saying he heard they were "there longer than what you probably expected." Search committee chairman Norm Peters replied that they'd ended up "stuck in a traffic jam trying to get home."

"You can blame the penurious Legislature," quipped Sanchez, who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee last year, to laughter from the panel. "I learned a new word I've been using all over the place."

Search committee members indicated a willingness to look at applicants from outside academia, as long as they had held other prominent positions.

Imari Paris Jeffries, a member of the UMass Board of Trustees, said the committee, in its prior search, "saw at least four, I think, really solid civic leaders who came through the process."

"I think the questions, when it gets down to the interview process, I hope that we get to a point where it can be balanced with the importance of being a good public figure for a city like this so that expertise has an opportunity to be discussed in a way that doesn't have us leaning toward someone who has higher ed experience," he said.

The new search committee held its first meeting on Aug. 27. The previous seven-month search came to what UMass President Marty Meehan called "an unceremonious end" when the three finalists dropped out. Faculty council members said at the time that the withdrawals came after a university-wide meeting where more than 200 faculty members decided none of the candidates were the right fit.

Jean Rhodes, a UMass Boston professor who serves as the committee's vice chair, said the panel has held various meetings to gather input from the campus community since it began its work three weeks ago, holding sessions with deans, faculty and staff.

Those discussions have in some ways "been a healing process," Rhodes told the News Service.

"We are going to continue to operate in the spirit of transparency," she said.

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