Aram Boghosian for the Boston Globe
The interim leader of the University of Massachusetts Boston, jolting a campus that has been rocked by financial upheaval and the loss of its longtime chancellor, will step down in June 2018, he announced Thursday.
Barry Mills, the former president of Bowdoin College, was installed by UMass system president Martin T. Meehan in March to help lead the Boston campus through a time of major budget challenges. In July, he became interim chancellor after longtime chancellor J. Keith Motley resigned.
Mills was tasked with helping the school fix a financial deficit that could have reached $30 million last year. As interim chancellor, he had begun to make budget cuts and changes, including increasing class sizes, offering an early retirement package to faculty and staff, and closing an on-campus day-care program.
He announced his departure hours before he and other administrators briefed the campus about their efforts to fix the budget gap. The school has shrunk the projected deficit for this fiscal year from $30 million to $18 million but must still reduce it to $5 million by June 30, he said.
Among cuts still to come will probably be 40 to 70 staff layoffs, administrators said, as well as reductions in nonstaff costs in some administrative offices and a possible parking fee increase.
Mills said he feels comfortable leaving in June because his team has finally set the university on a path to financial stability. He said he made up his mind about three weeks ago.
“There is a path. The hard part of it is that path is not without sacrifice,” he said.
Mills said he announced his plan to step down now so that a permanent chancellor can be recruited and, ideally, start next fall. The UMass central office on Thursday unveiled a chancellor search committee, chaired by trustee Henry Thomas.
“UMass Boston is an important university with a critical and essential mission,” Mills wrote in his e-mail to the campus. “I have become very attached to this university. For me personally, this decision is bittersweet because of the community of students, faculty and staff that make this university so special and distinguished.”
Meehan on Thursday said that Mills’s stepping down is a typical step, aimed at allowing a permanent campus leader to begin work in the fall. Earlier this year, Mills signed a five-year contract to be a deputy chancellor under Motley, but Mills said he was not under contract for the interim chancellor role.
“It was always our hope that Barry would serve at UMass Boston for a year but that we would have a search and bring a world-class person to UMass Boston,” Meehan said in a brief phone interview.
Mills said that for all of his progress rooting out the causes of the campus’s budget woes, there is one major challenge he could not solve: how to pay to tear down and replace the massive, crumbling parking garage that forms the foundation for much of the campus.
That unsafe garage has been unused for years and is slated for demolition. Several buildings atop it are also supposed to be replaced, including the science center, which houses the nursing program.
The state has pledged $78 million toward demolishing the garage, and the university trustees have pledged $155.5 million, but it is likely to cost much more. “This campus cannot afford that project,” Mills said, urging the university not to begin work on it until money is in place to complete it.
During a question-and-answer period at Thursday’s forum, several UMass staffers said budget cuts have come at the expense of students, instead of from the offices of administrators with six-figure salaries.
“We see very high-paid, high-level, nonunion positions being posted and hired, some of them not being posted, people just showing up,” Tom Goodkind, president of the professional staff union, said in an interview after the presentation.
Mills said there have also been cuts at the university’s top offices and promised to provide data about them.
He said one way to pay for the underground garage would be to obtain more financial support from the state. Another way, he said, would be to develop land UMass owns on the 19-acre site of the former Bayside Expo Center or sell it. It is currently used for parking.
Kathleen Kirleis, vice chancellor for administration and finance, said many of the ongoing construction projects are set to be completed this year. The first student dormitory opens next fall. An on-campus parking garage is also going up.
The school welcomed its largest freshman class this year, 1,881 students.
The deficit was reduced to $18 million through cuts that included a hiring freeze and the collection of more revenue from tuition and fees than first anticipated, as well as an increase in state funds for employee fringe benefits, she said.
Layoff notices to staff are likely to be sent in November, she said. The university will not cut tenured, tenure-track, or nontenure-track professors, she said, and will focus instead on support staff.
It will also look at the independent academic centers at the university and ask them to become more self-sustaining.
She said the school is considering negotiating a furlough program with the unions, more reductions in temporary staff, a review of all programs, and a reorganization of the administration and finance and marketing departments.
UMass Boston has also canceled some building plans, including for a new swimming pool, greenhouse, energy plant, and public safety and athletics building. They would have cost a combined $76 million, according to the presentation.
The university also wants to increase revenue by boosting enrollment and expanding online education programs.
The interim provost, Emily McDermott, said cuts were made with the goal of minimizing the impact on students and academics. She said many under-enrolled classes were eliminated this year, but 40 or 50 such courses were maintained after professors said cutting them would have hindered students from graduating. “The narrative that says we’re heartlessly and carelessly preventing students from moving toward completion of their degrees is just not true,” she said.
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