Business, civic leaders come to Suffolk president’s defense

Suffolk University president Margaret McKenna.
Suffolk University president Margaret McKenna.David L Ryan/Globe Staff/file 2015/Globe Staff

A group of more than two dozen civic and business leaders have come to Suffolk University president Margaret McKenna’s defense, urging the Suffolk board in a letter to use an independent mediator to resolve the board’s differences with McKenna instead of firing her.

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, emailed the letter to Drew Meyer, Suffolk’s chairman, on Thursday, the day before the private university’s board is scheduled to meet to discuss whether to terminate McKenna.

Word that the board was considering replacing McKenna leaked out last week, sparking an unusual drama as faculty members and students rushed to her defense.


Now, another group has chimed in.

The letter from the civic and business leaders starts: “Over the past few days we have watched with consternation and amazement at the high profile stories concerning leadership at Suffolk University.”

In particular, they write that they’ve known and admired McKenna for decades, including through her previous roles as head of Lesley University and the Walmart Foundation: “The prospect of termination, seven months into a five year contract, without a single performance review, makes this appear manifestly unfair. The public pillorying of Margaret McKenna is a disservice to her, to Suffolk, to your students and faculty, and ultimately to all of us who have opened our doors to your interns and graduates.”

The group of letter writers includes a number of current and former state lawmakers, along with other high-profile leaders such as Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman, Babson College President Kerry Healey, Dancing Deer Baking Co. co-founder Trish Karter, Be The Change founder Alan Khazei, and Eos Foundation president Andrea Silbert.

Last weekend, as the Suffolk University story was unfolding, many of the letter’s signatories were attending the Commonwealth Summit in Ashland, an annual retreat to discuss civic issues that includes a cross-section of government, academic and business leaders, Bachrach said. McKenna has attended the event in the past, and the Suffolk story naturally became a topic of conversation.


Because many of the attendees hire Suffolk graduates and work with Suffolk interns, they have a connection to the school, Bachrach said. The decision was made, he said, to write the letter to urge reconciliation and mediation for the good of the university.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.