Meehan intends to ‘clean up’ UMass Boston. Here’s a good place to start.

Boston, MA - 3/6/2017 - University of Massachusetts President Martin Meehan delivers his State of the University address at the UMass Club in Boston, MA, March 6, 2017.
The Boston Globe
University of Massachusetts President Martin Meehan.

Martin T. Meehan, the president of the University of Massachusetts system, poses an excellent question: “How was a state rep hired and the president didn’t know it?”

If Meehan really didn’t know that UMass Boston intended to install Tom Sannicandro, a former legislator, as the $165,000 head of the Institute for Community Inclusion, the hiring process should be changed to include him. As Meehan describes the way it works now, someone in the president’s office — not necessarily Meehan — must approve any nonunion position that pays a salary over $100,000. But administrators at each individual UMass campus decide who will actually fill the position. That division of authority gives Meehan license to say he had nothing to do with any specific hiring, unless it involves his own office — like the hiring of former Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone as general counsel for the office of the president.

Despite a $10 million deficit and an alleged hiring freeze, the politically wired continue to find employment on the UMass Boston campus. At the same time, administrators are closing a day care center, cutting adjunct professors, and consolidating courses to save money. It raises serious questions about priorities and core mission. But Meehan said he can’t address any queries that relate to specific personnel decisions. “I don’t have the authority to hire anyone,” he said, adding that he wants the UMass Board of Trustees to “change the paradigm on the authority the president’s office has.” The board should grant his wish, if only to make sure the buck stops in the president’s office, instead of getting kicked down and around, as it does now.


In theory, there’s a hiring freeze at UMass Boston. In theory, all requests to fill vacant or vacating positions must undergo a tough “vacancy review process,” during which applicants must make a “clear and convincing case” they warrant an exemption.

Get Today in Opinion in your inbox:
Globe Opinion's must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

In practice, there’s more of a thaw than a freeze. According to the Globe’s Laura Krantz, some 29 people have been hired since the “freeze” was put in place last November. Over the past 18 to 24 months, at least seven people with connections to state government and politics have found a home at UMass Boston.

Sannicandro is one of them. While his salary is paid by grants, it’s still fair to ask if that’s the best use of grant money. As for political connections, they aren’t always evil, but they shouldn’t automatically trigger preferential treatment. Overall, there should be more transparency regarding the hiring process at UMass Boston — and more transparency about the so-called budget crisis. First projected to reach $30 million, the deficit is now pegged at $10 million. But the final tally won’t be known until an audit of campus finances ordered by Meehan is completed.

“I intend to clean Boston up,” said Meehan. Scrutinizing the current payroll and any hires in the pipeline is a good place to start.