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UMass president aims to fire Dartmouth chief

UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Divina Grossman.
UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Divina Grossman.(Associated Press)

University of Massachusetts president Martin T. Meehan has moved to dismiss the chancellor of the Dartmouth campus, Divina Grossman, by the end of the academic year amid concerns about the campus's performance, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the situation.

Under Grossman's 3½-year tenure, enrollment has fallen and private fund-raising has plummeted, even as debt mounts.

In addition, the campus has cycled through three chief financial officers and as many provosts and fund-raising directors.

The move to oust Grossman is Meehan's first major leadership change since he took over in July with a pledge to elevate the stature of the five-campus university system.

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Grossman, who remains on the job for now, is five months into a second three-year contract that was negotiated under the former UMass president, Robert L. Caret, and signed in May.

The contract says the university can pay Grossman just one year of severance if she is terminated without cause during the first year of the new contract, a clause not contained in the other UMass chancellors' contracts and inserted as the result of her latest performance evaluation, according to one official.

Meehan informed Grossman a month ago that he was invoking that clause and the two were discussing how she would announce her departure, the officials said.

Grossman, through a spokesman, declined to comment Wednesday.

Some came to Grossman's defense Wednesday. UMass trustee Philip W. Johnston, who is also chairman of the UMass Building Authority, said, "I love Divina." Johnston said he has a meeting scheduled with her Monday, when they plan to discuss needed building repairs.

Marty Meehan.
Marty Meehan.(Keith Bedford/Globe Staff)

"My experience with her has been very positive; I think she's a dynamic leader," Johnston said.

Grossman makes $300,107 this year. That was set to rise to $309,107 by the third year. She also gets a $12,000-per-year vehicle allowance, $32,000 per year for housing, and $8,000 per year for life insurance.

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Under the contract, she has the option to stay on at Dartmouth as a tenured professor.

Grossman joined UMass Dartmouth in July 2012 after serving as founding vice president for engagement at Florida International University in Miami. Originally from the Philippines, she came to the United States to pursue a graduate degree in nursing.

Grossman succeeded Jean F. MacCormack, who retired after 13 years as chancellor and later became president of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate at UMass Boston.

In many ways, it was trial by fire for Grossman. She inherited a a $15 million budget gap, and less than a year into her tenure it was discovered that Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a student.

Grossman's campus has also had to contribute funds to the struggling UMass Law School.

Early in her tenure, Grossman pledged to increase enrollment, research, online programs, and fund-raising.

Fund-raising dropped from $14.3 million the year before Grossman arrived to $4.5 million this year. Deferred maintenance on the campus grew from $92 per gross square foot in 2011 to $179 this year.

Enrollment has declined from 9,225 the year before she took over to 8,916 this year, according to UMass reports. During that same period, enrollment at the other campuses, excluding the medical school, has grown.

The average SAT score of incoming freshman has declined slightly, to 1,029, based on a 1,600 scale, as has the six-year graduation rate, which fell from 48 to 47 percent.

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Federal research expenditures at the campus dropped from $13.7 million to $8.9 million.

The number of professors on the campus dropped from 649 to 607. The campus has also had two vice chancellors for research during Grossman's tenure.

In April, high-profile UMass Dartmouth professor and casino expert Clyde Barrow, who ran the university's Center for Policy and Analysis, left the school, alleging "habitually abusive treatment" by Grossman. At the time, a university spokesman denied the allegations and said Barrow's statement was riddled with "factual inaccuracies and misleading statements."

In 2014, Grossman appointed Gerry Kavanaugh, a South Coast native and former chief of staff to Edward M. Kennedy, as a senior vice president for strategic management, to help boost political support for the campus on the South Coast.

Grossman did have some successes. Total research and development expenditures rose from $25.6 million the year before she arrived to $27.3 million last year. Online enrollment grew to 4,127 from 2,750.


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