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Patrick consolidates UMass control

Posted in: *Bruce Mohl   Current Affairs   Education
Tags: Education Election Washington

Gov. Deval Patrick consolidated his control over the 19-member University of Massachusetts board of trustees by reappointing its controversial chairman and naming six others who are political supporters and Democratic activists. The move was consistent with second-term efforts by the governor to move friends, allies, and supporters into vacant positions, a policy that was first identified last December in a CommonWealth Back Story.

Patrick reappointed James Karam to a new five-year term, despite the fact that Attorney General Martha Coakley recently found that Karam led a search for a new university president that violated state open meeting laws. He also named Jeffrey Mullan, a Milton neighbor who just stepped down as transportation secretary; Democratic National Committee member Margaret Xifaras; Democratic political consultant Larry Carpman; Boston attorney Richard Campbell; Alyce Lee, former chief of staff to Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and the wife of a prominent developer, and Zoila Gomez, a Lawrence attorney and former aide to former US Rep. (and current UMass Lowell chancellor) Martin Meehan.

The new appointments fill one empty seat on the board and replace five other trustees who completed their five-year terms. The five departing trustees were Stephen Tocco, Lawrence F. Boyle, Jennifer Braceras, Richard  Lawton, and Kenneth MacAfee.

Most news outlets essentially reprinted the governor’s press release, but a handful dug deeper. The Boston Globe’s Frank Phillips reports that Karam is part of a powerful political clan that wields influence in southeastern Massachusetts and has strongly supported Patrick financially. The Daily Hampshire Gazette quotes Max Page, a professor of architecture and history at UMass Amherst, as saying Karam’s reappointment is a “black eye” for the university. “This is the worst kind of signal to send, that a law-breaker can be reappointed to the board of trustees,” Page said.

Karam took over as chairman of the UMass board earlier this year following the resignation of Boston investment banker Robert Manning, who quit when Patrick blocked the appointment of Meehan as UMass president. At the time, members of the UMass board said Manning felt Patrick was interfering in oversight of the university.

Patrick, interviewed by WSHM-TV in Springfield, dismissed concerns about his appointments. “Karam was on the board before I came to office and he has served the university very, very well,” he said. “Critics should look at the depth and experience from every single one of these new trustees and they’ll see that the university will be very, very well served.”

                                                                                                                                                 --BRUCE MOHL


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