UMass Faculty Criticize Restructuring Plan

Faculty leaders at the University of Massachusetts at Boston approved a no-confidence vote Wednesday against UMass president Jack M. Wilson's restructuring plan, increasing pressure on the university system president.

Members of the Faculty Council at UMass-Boston steered clear of directing the vote against Wilson personally, as UMass-Amherst's general faculty had done about two weeks ago.

The council, a 29-member group that represents UMass-Boston's faculty, voted 18 to 0 to express "a lack of confidence in the process" that Wilson and the trustees used to create a proposal for restructuring the five-campus system. The group denounced system leaders for failing to consult faculty as they developed ways to consolidate the campuses and reassign top university leaders.

"To exclude us from the process is not only empirically irresponsible, but morally reprehensible," Pepi Leistyna, a linguistics professor, said at the meeting, which drew about 70 faculty members.

The reorganization, under which UMass-Amherst chancellor John Lombardi would step down at the end of the next school year, has fueled discontent among faculty in Boston and Amherst and for some lawmakers and trustees. At Amherst, professors cast a no-confidence vote, 214-to-1, against Wilson and the UMass board of trustees.

Faculty from UMass-Boston said Wilson's plan has "undermined trust in the University of Massachusetts System's leadership, thereby severely damaging the effectiveness of the current administration at all levels and burdening future administrations with the task of rebuilding essential relationships."

"These moves have fractured and angered the community," the resolution stated.

Wilson has said his proposals to consolidate leadership of the campuses would help create a streamlined system that would encourage collaboration and lead UMass to greater prominence. He has vigorously defended his recommended appointments: Michael Collins, now chancellor of UMass-Boston, would become interim chancellor at the medical school, while J. Keith Motley, the system's assistant vice president for business and marketing, would become Boston chancellor.

Robert Connolly, a spokesman for Wilson who attended the meeting, said Wilson recognized the faculty criticism but would continue to push for collaboration.

"We understand that some faculty members have concerns about process, particularly because this conversation got started the wrong way, but we are convinced it's the right conversation at the right time for UMass," Connolly said.

He said many of the faculty's objections focused on ideas that are preliminary.

"I think it's notable that the most specific proposal we have made with regard to UMass-Boston, the appointment of Keith Motley, was unanimously endorsed," he said after the meeting.

During the meeting, Collins criticized faculty for voting on "a concept that has been misinterpreted as a plan."

Faculty voted to support Wilson's recommended appointment of Motley as chancellor, who was controversially passed over for the post two years ago. UMass trustees are scheduled to vote on the two appointments June 21.

UMass-Boston faculty leaders also expressed concern that plans to centralize the system in Amherst threaten their school's identity as an urban university.

Faculty passed a second measure opposing consolidation plans that would "diminish or undermine the academic integrity, democratic processes, and urban mission of UMass-Boston."

What rankled professors most, however, was their belief that Wilson and the trustees had hatched the plans in secret and not bothered to consult them. They called upon university administrators to practice "transparent decision-making" and rely more heavily on faculty's expertise and institutional knowledge.

"All of us at this university are highly offended by the way the process has taken place," said Randy Albelda, an economics professor.

Aleksandar Kulenovic, a UMass-Boston student representative to the UMass Board of Trustees, said the restructuring was designed to boost the university's national standing.

"My impression is, this is really about having one UMass," he said.

Adding to the opposition, 10 state legislators from Western Massachusetts have asked Governor Deval Patrick to conduct an independent study of the university's governing structure and expressed strong objections to Wilson's restructuring plans.

The board of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Foundation, the school's fund-raising arm, has recommended that Lombardi be offered a three-year deal to continue as chancellor, according to John Armstrong, a member of the foundation board. Armstrong recently resigned from his UMass trustee post to protest Wilson's plans.