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JOAN VENNOCHI

Why does no one care about UMass Boston?

Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Bob Carroll, a longtime janitor at UMass Boston.

By Globe Columnist 

What’s happening now at UMass Boston just doesn’t add up.

The university is home to a special institute dedicated to “the full inclusion of people with disabilities in their communities, schools, and workplaces.” The institute is headed by Tom Sannicandro, a former state legislator, who earns $165,000 to oversee that mission.

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Yet a longtime janitor with some physical and mental health challenges made the list of 36 people set to be laid off in January as part of some hazy formula to balance an out-of-whack budget. As reported by the Globe’s Laura Krantz, Bob Carroll, who will turn 63 on Christmas Day and earns $51,000 after 30 years on the job, is slated to be cut loose two years before he would be eligible to retire with maximum benefits.

The official explanation for Carroll’s ouster included the usual blather about tough choices, blamed on fiscal mismanagement the current administration likes to link to former UMass Boston chancellor J. Keith Motley. According to Robert Connolly, a UMass Boston spokesman, the school is “making at least $25 million in budget cuts this year and will reduce a $30 million deficit to $5 million or less.” The goal of Marty Meehan, the president of the five-campus UMass system, added Connolly, is to “bring the deficit down to $5 million” by the 2018 fiscal year.

Painful choices are necessary. But who will feel the pain?

Not Connolly — who retired from UMass Boston, in August 2016, with a salary of at least $211,000. With his pension also came a $75,000 payout for unused sick and vacation time, and Connolly is now on contract at $91 an hour in a special-projects capacity.

Not Meehan, who was hired in 2015. His base salary for the current fiscal year is $562,393. With that comes an 18 percent retirement contribution; a $60,000 per year housing allowance; a $12,500 per year allowance to lease an automobile “suitable for his role as president”; supplemental life insurance of $19,800 a year; and a performance bonus, which last year totaled $60,000.

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Sannicandro, a former state representative from Ashland, isn’t feeling any pain either. He continues to head the UMass Boston Institute for Community Inclusion with a salary funded through grant money. Meanwhile, Carroll’s job — a symbol of what that institute supposedly stands for — qualified for the chopping block. When Sannicandro was hired, Meehan said he knew nothing about it and was asking the UMass Board of Trustees to “change the paradigm on the authority the president’s office has.” Apparently, the old paradigm holds. A spokesman for Meehan’s office shifted responsibility for answering any questions about Carroll to UMass Boston.

In a speech last fall extolling Carroll as an exemplary employee, Motley said, “Even the snow and the ice shiver and they shake when he shows up with the tools of his trade.” Via e-mail, Connolly offered a different take. “Performance played a role,” he wrote about the decision to put Carroll on the lay-off list. Yet even if Motley’s remarks fall under hyperbole, there’s still the matter of an alleged commitment to the goal of “full inclusion” of people with disabilities.

As president of the entire UMass system, it’s not Meehan’s job to decide which janitor stays or goes. But it is his job to help Massachusetts understand the grand plan for a UMass Boston renaissance. He’s happy to bask in the glory of the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking of UMass Amherst among the nation’s top 30 public universities. Then there’s UMass Boston, begging for money and attention from a state that pretends to care about higher education.

According to Connolly, the annualized savings from the layoffs of 36 people, including Carroll, total $3.6 million. The average salary of the laid-off employees is $80,404. Through the intricacies of seniority rights and job vacancies, Carroll and others may yet survive the lay-off list.

That doesn’t really change the big picture at UMass Boston. It only shows how ugly it is.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.