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Martin Meehan chosen as next UMass president

Former congressman vowed to raise institution’s profile, increase fund-raising

UMass Lowell Chancellor Martin T. Meehan was chosen to lead the five-campus state university system.
UMass Lowell Chancellor Martin T. Meehan was chosen to lead the five-campus state university system.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The University of Massachusetts board of trustees unanimously named Martin T. Meehan as the system’s next president Friday, charging him with expanding upon his widely acclaimed success as leader of the Lowell campus to elevate the profile of the entire five-campus system.

Meehan, a former US representative known for his ability to raise money and negotiate the halls of power, vowed to catapult UMass to new levels with more fund-raising, research, and an increasingly global reach.

“I am ready to lead this institution to great places,” Meehan said, calling UMass the engine of social mobility and economic development of Massachusetts. He vowed to stay in the position for 10 years, but no contract or salary has been finalized.

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Meehan had also been under consideration to serve as the next president of Suffolk University, but said Friday he would not be entertaining other offers.

The board tapped Meehan after a four-hour public meeting in which it also interviewed the other finalist, John A. Quelch, a Harvard Business School professor and former head of the Massachusetts Port Authority board.

Meehan, 58, captivated the UMass board as he listed his accomplishments at Lowell since taking over in 2007. The college has built new dorms and laboratories, struck partnerships with private companies for research, and attracted an increasingly diverse student body.

The graduation and first-year retention rates have increased and private fund-raising grew by 67 percent, Meehan said.

The Lowell native, who graduated in 1978 from the campus he now runs, credited his success in part to the use of data and planning, and said he is ready to apply his same ambitious standards to the entire UMass system.

“Everything that we do we need to strive for excellence,” Meehan said. “There is no such thing as status quo and there’s no such thing as mediocrity.”

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Meehan said he would focus on improving the UMass Dartmouth law school, where administrators have struggled with enrollment, and encourage the system’s very successful medical school in Worcester to collaborate more with other campuses.

Meehan also stressed the positive impact that dormitories could have at UMass Boston and emphasized the importance of the social sciences, as well as the science, technology, engineering and math majors that often receive more attention in higher education.

The UMass president oversees chancellors who run the five campuses — Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, and Worcester — which have unique cultures and academic specialties.

Meehan vowed to be visible on the campuses as well as influential at the highest levels, emphasizing his connections in the Legislature, Washington, and around the world.

“I believe that I am ready to inspire and lead those chancellors,” he said. One of his first jobs will be filling the position at the Lowell campus that he is vacating.

Meehan, who was known in Congress for his ability to raise money, also pledged to increase fund-raising at UMass, both personally and through developing better systems for each campus to solicit donations.

“I will personally raise more money than any person that’s ever been the president of this university. I will,” Meehan told the board.

He also promised to build a seamless connection between community colleges across the state and the five UMass campuses to assure diversity among the student population.

The chancellor’s next step is to negotiate a salary with board chairman Victor Woolridge. Meehan earns $374,000 at Lowell.

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Outgoing president Robert Caret’s starting salary in 2011 was $425,000, although he had recently negotiated a new contract that would have paid him $952,000, including bonuses and a housing allowance, in 2018.

Meehan said that he is not taking the job for the money. “I have never, ever taken a job because of the salary,” he said.

Meehan said UMass’ greatest challenge will be to create a sustainable, long-term financial plan in an era of declining state budgets. The system sees about $2.9 billion in annual revenue and has about $3 billion in debt. All campuses face significant deferred maintenance.

UMass for the past two years froze tuition and fees, which amount to about $12,000 annually for Massachusetts residents. But this year it suffered from state budget cuts and has only funded $2.2 million of $13.1 million in contractual raises due to 5,700 faculty and staff.

Meehan, who is set to begin July 1, said he hopes to stay at UMass at least 10 years, a welcome announcement for trustees, who were dismayed when Caret announced his departure in February after just four years to take a job as chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

Quelch, the other finalist, served for more than eight years as chairman of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which oversees Logan International Airport, and was the dean of CEIBS, a business school in China.

Board members Friday said they felt he was talented but out of touch with public higher education and they bristled when he said he would be “willing to come from Harvard to the University of Massachusetts.”

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Trustees in discussion before the vote heaped praise on Meehan and said they feel more comfortable with someone who has UMass experience.

“I’d rather run with the horse I know than the horse I don’t know,” said trustee Norman Peters.

Meehan confirmed that Suffolk University had expressed interest in hiring him.

In a statement Friday, Drew Meyer, chairman of the Suffolk board of trustees, congratulated Meehan.

“The University of Massachusetts system will undoubtedly benefit from Marty Meehan’s experience, talent, and dedication, and we wish him well,” the statement said.

Governor Charlie Baker called Meehan “a terrific choice.”

On the Lowell campus Friday afternoon, some students said they were focused on final exams and hadn’t heard the news. Others said they didn’t know Meehan personally but had heard good things.

“I don’t like it, because I want him to stay here. But good for him,” said Chelmsford sophomore Kevin Falco.

Students praised new programs Meehan started as well as the gleaming buildings that rose during his tenure.

“We got that building, we got that building,” said Tony Ventura, a junior from Milford, gesturing in all directions. “We got two residence halls and they’re adding to the new building they already built.”


Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.