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Walsh praises embattled Suffolk president

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Wednesday waded into the ugly public dispute between Suffolk University trustees and the school’s embattled president Margaret McKenna, offering strong praise for McKenna’s leadership and urging board members to “work this out.”

Walsh said he called several board members Wednesday.

“I don’t think it’s good for any university to have these squabbles on the front page of the paper,” Walsh said in a Globe interview. “My message to the board – and I’ve been talking to them – is to sit down and have a conversation and figure this out, work this out.

“They’re an important institution for our city so I would like to see this thing resolved and not play out in a nasty fashion in the press, where attorneys have to get involved and PR people are involved.”

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McKenna is a former Boston School Committee member, and Walsh said he would have reappointed her, had she not left in 2014 to become chairwoman of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Walsh said McKenna has done a “great job” as president of Suffolk.

“In what I’ve seen of her in her role as a president, I think she has done a lot to promote the school in a very short period of time,” Walsh said. “She’s somebody who I see out there visibly in the community, advancing the school and has a good story to tell about the school.

“My dealings with her as the president have been very positive,” he said. “She’s done as much in the last eight months for the university as anyone has.”

Trustees have scheduled a meeting for Friday to decide whether to fire McKenna, who has refused to resign. McKenna is the school’s fifth president in five years.

Some trustees had been courting former state attorney general Martha Coakley to replace McKenna, but saw those plans dissolve Tuesday, when Coakley publicly said she did not want the job.

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“I’ve never seen a situation where people tried to push a president out and already had somebody named, and then that person clearly declined to go there,” Walsh said. “That’s unique.”

“This should be an in-house dispute,” Walsh said. “There seems to be issues there and people need to deal with those and move forward as a university.”

Suffolk is a private institution but Walsh said he chose to speak out about the dispute because of Suffolk’s prominence in Boston.

“My concern is clearly that Suffolk University is the downtown urban university in the city of Boston and offers a lot of education opportunities to kids in our city and people in our city,” he said. “Many of the people who work at City Hall or work at the State House have gone to school there or are going to school there.”

“That school is too important to the future of our city, in the sense of the students who get educated there.”


Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark