Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, 63, was named chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston on Monday, making him the first Latino to lead a campus in the state’s public university system.
The system’s board of trustees unanimously supported Suárez-Orozco’s appointment, and described it as a turning point for the 16,000-student Boston university that has been dogged by financial problems and leadership turnover.
“UMass Boston is a special place and needs and deserves a special leader,” said UMass president Martin T. Meehan in backing Suárez-Orozco.
Suárez-Orozco’s appointment was all but guaranteed. He was the sole finalist named by the search committee last month after members considered hundreds of candidates and interviewed 11 of them in-depth. He earned the endorsement of UMass Boston’s powerful faculty council and had Meehan’s support.
Still, Suárez-Orozco, who is currently the dean of the University of California Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, said his journey from 17-year-old Argentinian immigrant to university chancellor has been improbable.
“I pinch myself. I am a kid who came to this country at age 17. It’s really the power of education, the power of public education,” Suárez-Orozco said. “I am grateful. I am humbled. I am delighted. Thank you. Muchas gracias.”
Suárez-Orozco acknowledged the position comes with its share of challenges.
UMass Boston is the most diverse campus in the state’s public university system and educates the largest share of low-income students, yet it also has the lowest graduation rate of the system’s four undergraduate campuses. The Boston campus has cut programs and offered voluntary buyouts to save money in recent years. It is hampered by millions of dollars of debt and a need to address a crumbling underground garage.
It has been without a permanent leader since 2017.
But UMass officials said the campus is in better shape that it was a few years ago.
Last year, UMass announced that it has a long-term lease with a private developer for the Bayside Expo Center near the Boston campus, in a deal worth $235 million. The money was set aside for UMass Boston, and officials have said it will be used to help pay for the garage project, including making major repairs to the massive underground facility that serves as the foundation for several campus buildings.
Interim chancellor Katherine Newman, who has been leading the campus since 2018, has also made changes to help stabilize the Boston university’s finances, bringing in additional money from donors and cutting costs.
“Marcelo, he’s going to hit the ground running and have a foundation that’s in much better shape than it was a few years ago,” said Robert J. Manning, the chairman of the UMass board of trustees.
Newman was among several candidates who were in the running for the permanent chancellor job, but withdrew in the days before the finalists were announced.
Newman on Monday said she has known Suárez-Orozco and his wife for years and anticipates the new chancellor will leave his mark on the campus.
“I look for forward to seeing the extraordinary things Marcelo will do for the university in the years to come,” Newman said.
UMass Boston educates many immigrant students and those who are the first in their family to go to college, and Suárez-Orozco understands the challenges they face, she said. Suárez-Orozco has recounted working as a janitor and pumping gas to make money while going to school.
Suárez-Orozco said UMass Boston has a crucial role to play in the region to help prepare a demographically diverse group of students for the changing economy.
“The promise of higher education is so important, especially in the context of growing inequality,” he said.