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UMass trustees are expected to approve Michael F. Collins (above) as chancellor of the UMass-Boston campus next week.
UMass trustees are expected to approve Michael F. Collins (above) as chancellor of the UMass-Boston campus next week. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

Ex-CEO picked to lead UMass-Boston

University of Massachusetts president Jack Wilson will recommend Dr. Michael F. Collins, former chief executive of Caritas Christi Health Care System, as the next chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, Wilson said yesterday.

The long-awaited recommendation, which UMass trustees are expected to approve next week, drew praise from some of the city's influential business and labor leaders, but disappointed many on the 12,000-student urban campus. A vocal group of UMass-Boston students, staff, and faculty strongly supported the candidacy of interim chancellor J. Keith Motley, who would have been the university's first black leader.

Collins, a 49-year-old physician and Walpole native who has taught at Tufts University medical school for 20 years, was asked by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston to step aside as president of the Catholic health care network last spring, after a decade as chief executive. He said yesterday that he resigned from the post, but declined to comment further.

Collins said he was grateful for the opportunity to stay in Massachusetts and ''lead another great Boston institution."

''I wanted to go to a place that matters, in a position that matters, and I believe I found that at UMass-Boston," Collins said in an interview at the UMass president's office. ''My perception is that this is a place where expectations are exceeded every day."

If appointed by trustees, Collins will be the first chancellor chosen by Wilson since he took over the presidency of the five-campus system last year.

Yesterday, Wilson praised the efforts of the chancellor search committee, which narrowed the pool to three finalists last month, and said that any of the finalists could have succeeded. In addition to Collins and Motley, the search committee recommended Marvin Krislov, general counsel at the University of Michigan, who has spearheaded Michigan's legal defense of affirmative action.

The new chancellor, whose starting date has not been set, will face several challenges, from the failing infrastructure beneath the campus on Dorchester Bay to the fallout from recent budget cuts, including a smaller faculty and higher student charges. Collins said he plans to create a professional fund-raising arm on campus, and over time, will build closer relationships with alumni, as well as strengthening the traditional ties between the campus and the community.

''I find the urban mission very compelling, I recognize the richness of the diversity on campus, and I don't see dissonance between the goals of excellence and access," said Collins, who said he hopes to increase total sponsored research on campus beyond the current $50 million goal.

The critical asset offered by Collins was his experience running a complex, mission-driven institution, Wilson said, including the management of independent-minded staff members, complex interactions with government, and successful relationships with local communities. Caritas, with six hospitals including St. Elizabeth's Medical Center in Brighton, saw a net loss of $8.6 million in 2002, but had begun to bounce back before Collins's resignation, earning $3 million in 2003.

''He's shown the ability to manage all the different pieces," Wilson said. ''There's no substitute for long experience."

The search committee was assembled last fall after the university's last chancellor, Jo Ann Gora, resigned to take the presidency of Ball State University. The 22-member panel included students, staff, and faculty and was assisted by a paid consultant. Members considered more than 75 candidates.

But the search process drew vigorous criticism in March, after staff members on the Boston campus spread word that the interim chancellor would not be a finalist and Motley supporters reacted with outrage. At the committee's last meeting, as dozens of Motley's supporters waited outside, closed-door debate went on for hours before he was named a finalist by a 10-to-5 vote.

Motley did not respond to a request for an interview yesterday. Wilson and UMass Board of Trustees chairman James Karam praised his talents and said they hope the 49-year-old will stay at the university, possibly in a new role in the president's office. ''I think we can create an opportunity for him to grow personally, and a role where he can do that," Karam said.

On the Dorchester campus, however, some called the decision a ''missed opportunity" that will reinforce Boston's reputation as a city with limited opportunities for minorities. Motley, who was hired as vice chancellor of student affairs at UMass-Boston two years ago after a 25-year student services career at Northeastern University, has said he wants to lead a campus, if not at UMass, then somewhere else.

''It's depressing," said Robert Johnson, a professor of Africana studies and a search committee member. ''This is a major setback, not because of Dr. Collins -- I have nothing against him -- but [because] Keith Motley did an excellent job bringing the community together, so faculty of color and others feel very positive about the direction we're going in."

Eliza Wilson, a 22-year-old student government leader from Martha's Vineyard, said some students who were loyal to Motley cried yesterday when they heard the news. Students and staff have praised the administrator for getting to know them, listening to their concerns, and building better relationships with the neighborhoods around UMass, while some faculty have questioned his lack of experience in teaching and research.

''The campus is in shock, and, I think, numb, and it feels very dark," Wilson said. ''It feels like we're going to have to start over, building relationships, working with people."

Other campus leaders were optimistic. Celia Moore, psychology department chairwoman and outgoing chairwoman of the faculty council, acknowledged there will be a ''period of controversy" because several constituencies favored other candidates, but said the faculty is ready to work with the next chancellor to move the campus forward.

Collins ''has some strengths we really need right now, and he's well-placed to move in quickly and build the resources we need," she said.

Wilson's pick won endorsement yesterday from local leaders, including Robert J. Haynes, a search committee member and president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and Michael C. Ruettgers, chairman of EMC Corp.'s board of directors.

Karam, the UMass board chairman, said Collins's fund-raising experience will be important. A longtime member of the board of directors of St. Anne's Hospital in Fall River, a Caritas network hospital, and a new member of the Caritas network board of governors, Karam said he was confident Collins's departure from Caritas was driven solely by the change of leadership in the archdiocese.

Collins said he expects to move with his wife, Maryellen, from Westwood to Boston to be closer to campus. Their two children will both be students at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Collins's alma mater, in the fall.

Citing the need for stable leadership on the campus, where the last chancellor stayed less than three years, Collins said he expects to hold the job for some time. ''One of the big reasons I wanted the job was because I wanted to stay [in Boston]," he said. ''I think it's going to be a terrific relationship, and I can guarantee I'm not thinking about leaving."

Jenna Russell can be reached at jrussell@globe.com.

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