Keith Motley takes the podium at UMass Boston's convocation.

Credit: University of Massachusetts

In The Blame Game, Keith Motley Loses Big Time

April 23, 2017

I imagine that these last few weeks, soon to be ex-UMass Boston Chancellor Keith Motley has been feeling a kinship with Ray Donovan. Ray Donovan is now 86-years-old. He was a former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Ronald Reagan and was later accused of larceny and fraud in connection to a New York subway construction project. In 1987, he was acquitted, and then he famously asked, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” Motley could rightly ask the same question.

By now you’ve probably heard details of the estimated $30 million dollar deficit at UMass Boston, where Motley has been chancellor since 2007. Full disclosure — I moderated an all-day conference at the school last year. It’s not the Salem Witch trials, but the public shaming at the center of this town square stoning sure evokes that local historical blemish. Supporters are angry about the concentrated attacks on Motley’s reputation. And they are upset about his forced resignation, questioning why he, alone, is the fall guy. What’s more, the Keith Motley described as a failed leader is not the same Keith Motley who has used his tenure as a 24/7 campaign to raise visibility and respect for the school. I have had infrequent opportunities to witness his public boosterism. Like others at those events, I couldn’t help but be drawn in by his charisma and commitment. He was always working hard on behalf of his beloved students and an institution he said “gets into your soul.”

The facts are Motley and the UMass Board of Trustees together signed off on a five-year budget plan for construction to expand classroom space and to add a dormitory. Both the Board and Motley factored in projected deficits -- expected losses that would occur during each year of the plan. However, Board chair Robert Manning pointedly told the Boston Globe, “We don’t run the university campuses.” He added that chancellors (like Motley), “Need to course correct and make decisions on the campus to keep the budget in line that the board approves.” 

UMass President Martin Meehan, too, has said the school’s money problems are not the Board’s fault. Meehan named former Bowdoin College president Barry Mills deputy chancellor in charge of reconciling the school’s debt. Mills has been sharply critical of what he described as a “fundamentally broken” budget process under Motley’s leadership.

Motley’s resignation as chancellor has been coupled with layoffs of adjunct professors, janitor firings, and cuts of 20 courses, including some students need to graduate. There will be plenty of pain to go around as UMass Boston tries to eliminate the cost overruns. Too bad Keith Motley stands alone in accepting responsibility for what happened here, while so many others who were in the room dodge the blame and the shame.

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