Editorial | UMass Boston gives Motleys their due

p1 Motley hall Photo courtesy of UMass Boston REP 18-23.jpg

The first-and-only student resident hall on UMass Boston’s Dorchester campus was re-named last week for the former chancellor, Dr. J. Keith Motley, and his wife Angela. The two-hour ceremony was a fitting and overdue tribute to the charismatic couple and drew luminaries from the world of academia, politics, and business to the tent, which was filled to overflow by a crowd that reached into the hundreds.

Motley Hall – as it will now be known – is aptly named. Prior to Dr. Motley’s installation as UMass Boston’s chancellor, the notion of building a dorm on the Columbia Point peninsula was anathema to many in Dorchester and across the city. Earlier efforts to introduce the idea were rejected out of hand by a succession of civic and political leaders, including the late Boston Mayor Tom Menino, an alumnus of the university. One of Motley’s predecessors, Jo Ann Gora, tried to make the case for 2,000 on-campus-beds in the early aughts and was rebuffed so soundly that she left her post soon after.

The newly named Dr. J. Keith and Angela Motley Hall_Photo courtesy of UMass Boston.jpg
Dr. J. Keith and Angela Motley unveiled the signage on the newly named residence hall alongside UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, Embrace Boston Executive Director Imari K. Paris Jeffries, and others. Photos courtesy of UMass Boston

Motley, who moved to Boston from his native Pittsburgh to attend Northeastern University in the late 1960s, was first appointed to lead the Dorchester campus as interim chancellor after Gora’s departure in 2005. In 2007, he was installed permanently when Gora’s first full-time replacement, Dr. Michael Collins, left to head up the UMass Medical School in Worcester.

Motley was already a popular figure on campus, having served under Gora as the Dean of Student Life. And he had built an impressive network across the region in previous roles with Northeastern. He came equipped to make the slow, steady case for on-campus housing, along with other building projects on the waterfront campus that are equally part of his tenure’s (’07-’17) impressive record. Most remarkably, he led the university’s move to acquire the old Bayside Expo Center property, which will fuel campus growth for decades to come.

At Friday’s ceremony, the Motleys were saluted by a parade of admirers, including University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan, who said that “their names and example will inspire UMass Boston students today and forever.”

UMass President Marty Meehan, Dr J. Keith Motley and Angela Motley_Photo courtesy of UMass Boston.jpg
UMass President Marty Meehan, Dr J. Keith Motley and Angela Motley are shown at last Friday’s unveiling ceremony at Motley Hall on the Dorchester campus of UMass Boston. The building, which houses roughly 1,000 students, opened in 2018.

Added Motley’s latest successor, the current chancellor, Marcelo Suárez-Orozco: “The naming of this building is a testament to their leadership, making their legacy a permanent honor of their forceful efforts to build our first on-campus living space.”

Left unsaid during the event was the fact that the 1,000-person dorm houses a small fraction of UMass Boston’s 16,000 students. Hundreds more populate apartment buildings on the peninsula that aren’t owned by the university. And the proposed Dorchester Bay City project, which will be built out on land owned by UMass but leased to private developers, does not include any specific plan for student housing. Judging from public statements and a list of priorities laid out in its most recent documents, housing students on its campus seems to be a low priority of the current administration.

Still, the contributions made by both Angela and Keith Motley have been mighty and will have long-term benefits for the campus he led with grace and dignity through a difficult, but transformational decade. We thank them both for their service.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter