Public Service Shouldn’t Scuttle Higher Education Selection

While I am a supporter of the Governor and at the risk of being reminded that I’m also a Marty Meehan supporter –  let me say that I’m not happy about the Governor waving-off Marty Meehan as a candidate for the University of Massachusetts Presidency because he served as an elected official in the United States Congress. Academics in a university are taken care of, overseen and are the purview of the Provost… The image, endowments/scholarships and public perception – and more – of a University come from the work of the President – it’s a small “p” political job.

Just as College and University Presidents come into politics and elected office – Woodrow Wilson was President of Princeton University before serving as governor of New Jersey and President of the United States…  Dwight Eisenhower was President of Columbia University and then served two terms as President of the United States…  William Fulbright was President of the University of Arkansas before becoming a member of the U. S. House of Representatives and then the U. S. Senator for Arkankas …but it also goes the other way. After serving in the Congress -Senator Bob Kerrey became President of New School University in NYC… former Oklahoma Governor and U.S. Senator David Boren became and is the President of the University of Oklahoma… former U.S. Representative from Indiana John Brademas served as President of New York University. There are probably more examples. The skills of a member of Congress like those of a teacher are many, varied and transferable.

Let the search, interview and finalist selection process play-out as determined by the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees. Whatever happens – happens. Stay tuned.

Disclosure: Lowell State College Class of 1964 (now UMass Lowell), member of the GSE /UML Board of Advisors.

4 Responses to Public Service Shouldn’t Scuttle Higher Education Selection

  1. DickH says:

    The Globe is still on this issue with a story today by Noah Bierman (“Meehan doesn’t rule out becoming UMass president”). Besides quotes from Meehan, the reporter interviewed a number of people connected to UML and has quotes ranging from how Marty has invigorated the campus to one about a “lack of academic credentials.” Best of all is from City Councilor Bill Martin who, in praising Marty, said something we might all agree on: “He’s clearly an ambitious guy.”

  2. Bob Forrant says:

    With trepidation—since I am a professor at the UMass Lowell and know what we say publicy about these issues is noted—let me weigh in here. I fully agree that public service ought not to rule a person out for the job as president of any university, the question being debated, it seems to me though, is does it rule some folks in to the exclusion of or discouragement of others from even applying? As I understand the way the world works sometimes when it is viewed, rightly or wrongly, that a job is ‘hot wired’ the candidate pool is quickly drained of talent. One has to trust that the search committee understands all of this and that they will indeed conduct a proper search and in then end select the best person for the job.

    But my issue is not really the search per se, but the question of where the search committee wants the UMass System to head over the next several years and how the search was therefore crafted. How does the academic/research importance of the system make a jump into the first ranks of public university systems? Or, does that matter all that much to the search committee as it hunts for a new leader? It seems to me that with the construction boom taking place at all of the UMass campuses, the system has figured this one part of the puzzle out and there is a building renaissance of sorts taking place. This is indeed a good thing, especially as I am a person who teaches his history classes in a historically important but not handicapped accessible Coburn Hall!

    So, on my agenda if I was on the search committee – sadly I was not picked! – would be to determine whether we at the present time need someone in leadership able to provide an ideas agenda, one that is deeply rooted in creating a university system able to address the significant economic and social problems that confront us as a state and nation? Or, do we want a person well versed in finding dollars (an impt. task) and acquiring and building things? On one level there is nothing wrong with either of these approaches. Or, might we get lucky and find someone with both skill sets or a person able to attract the talent needed to create a complementary leadership team that forcefully and dramatically enhances an ideas and creativity agenda in the sciences, engineering and for me most importantly the humanities and social sciences, which have always, always gotten the short end of the stick across the entire university system. (BTW, I am a history professor.)

    In my opinion the answer to this question does matter moving forward over the next fifty years. How the question is answered goes a long way to determining whether the UMass systems truly breaks into the ranks of what I consider to be the top ‘ideas and creativity’ public university systems around the world.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I’ll go out on a limb and say I’m put off by the PR blitz by Meehan.

    But, honestly, I’ve never met the guy. What I know of him is informed by polar opposite portrayals of the man. It’s hard to know someone from the resultant of praise by cheerleaders and rants by detractors.

    He certainly doesn’t NEED the job. Sure, the cynics can say he is gaming the pension system. But, they would then have to set aside their rhetorical fodder about his pending run for Senator. (not that they will)

    He isn’t the “Messiah of the Merrimack Valley,” as some may portray him. He is a public servant. A decent one, too. So whatever he accomplishes, it is on his work ticket.

    Ultimately, if he really, really has a passion for the UMASS system and has a drive to make UMASS “the standard” in state school secondary education, then he should go for it, guns blazing.

    And the Governor should fulfill his duties to the Commonwealth.

    I love our system of checks and balances.

  4. Jack Mitchell says:

    I was pleased with myself when I conjured “Messiah of the Merrimack Valley.” So let the record be corrected.

    Though setting the bar so high, I’ll be up against it for a moniker for Pangy.