Past, Present UMass Boston Chancellors Talk About Building on Each Other’s Work

Colleen Locke | May 05, 2015
L to R: J. Keith Motley, Dr. Michael Collins, JoAnn Gora, Sherry Penney, Robert Corrigan, Jean MacCormack

L to R: J. Keith Motley, Dr. Michael Collins, JoAnn Gora, Sherry Penney, Robert Corrigan, Jean MacCormack
Image by: Christian Arthur

This was a safe place. This was a place where races would come together.

Five Chancellors Get Together for 50th Anniversary Roundtable

UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley and four former chancellors reflected on their administrations—the joys, and the challenges—during a roundtable discussion on Tuesday morning. Jean MacCormack, who served as interim chancellor between 1995 and 1996, moderated the discussion, which was a celebration of the university’s 50th anniversary.

Motley talked about how his fellow panelists, Robert Corrigan (1979-1988), Sherry Penney (1988-1995, 1996-2000), Jo Ann Gora (2001-2004), and Dr. Michael Collins (2005-2007), laid the groundwork for him when he was inaugurated in 2007.

“I am just so honored to build on your work,” Motley said, calling Tuesday’s event “a booster shot.”

Corrigan talked about being offered the job as chancellor, and then being told that one of the state colleges was going to be closing in an effort to save money. In 1982, Boston State College was incorporated into UMass Boston, eliminating duplicate programs and bringing a nursing program to Columbia Point. Collins talked about how his interview with the UMass president took place in a private room off of a restroom in the Omni Parker Hotel so that no one would know he was a candidate for the job.

Corrigan said his biggest challenge was the climate in the City of Boston in the 1970s and 80s; the desegregation of Boston Public Schools led to a series of racial protests and riots. Corrigan recalled rocks being thrown at buses coming from the Boston State buildings, but said he was proud there was never a racial incident on campus.

“This was a safe place. This was a place where races would come together, and I think that’s one of the great things that we contributed to this society,” Corrigan said.

Penney talked about how UMass Boston became a priority doctoral institution during her tenure, with eight programs added between 1989 and 1995. The population of the then Honors Program doubled and UMass Boston had its first two Fulbright winners.

During Gora’s administration, the freshman class was more diverse than ever before, and the average GPA went up. She worked to shore up undergraduate programs and put an emphasis on research; a strategic plan put out during her administration was called Research, Retention, and Reputation. Collins spent his two years on the UMass Boston campus building on that – working to increase the community’s awareness of the excellence happening on campus.

“One of the greatest things that I’ve been able to do is really come to grips with the reality that there has been some evolution – that each of [the chancellors] has a piece of it, and so I honor that every day,” Motley said.

Motley gave each of the chancellors the Chancellor’s Medal, one of the highest honors the university can bestow on a person. He also gave them copies of UMass Boston at 50, which will be unveiled to the campus community at an event on May 18. The chancellors signed copies of the book for one another.

As for the next 50 years, Penney, who continues to teach MBA courses in the College of Management, says she sees it every day in her students.

“For UMass Boston, failure is totally impossible,” Penney said.

About UMass Boston
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit

Tags: 50th anniversary , chancellor , umass boston at 50

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Comments (1)

Posted by Monica Calzolari | May 06, 2015 - 12:13 p.m.

I was at this event and you captured it well, Colleen.