Future prospects for Freeland

Future prospects for Freeland

By Derek Hawkins

Former Northeastern President Richard Freeland has been cited among the top candidates to become interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst this fall, sources within the university said.

Freeland and another candidate, Evan Dobelle, president of the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) and former president of the University of Hawaii, were mentioned by a number of media outlets as the two most likely candidates for the position.

The position was vacated last month when then-chancellor John Lombardi accepted a nomination to become president of Louisiana State University. University officials have since sought a successor for Lombardi, who will assume his new job Sept. 1.

UMass officials would neither confirm nor deny that Freeland and Dobelle had been named, but said the board of trustees was considering a number of possible replacements.

“We’re just looking for someone with significant managerial and academic experience to assume the position while we search for a permanent chancellor,” said Robert Connolly, a university spokesman. “We envision that search will last about a year.”

Connolly added that the person chosen to fill the interim role will not be a candidate for the permanent position.

Jack Wilson, president of the UMass system, is expected to nominate an interim chancellor Aug. 15 in a special meeting with the board.

Rumors of Freeland’s nomination come after Northeastern officials have discussed bringing Freeland, who stepped down last year, back to the university to teach. Freeland has held a guest appointment in the history department since he began his term as president and will likely assume a position there if he were to return.

“There are negotiations taking place in the President’s Office and the possibility of him coming back is on the table,” said Laura Frader, chair of the history department. “Everything is up in the air. If he were to come back he would be welcome to the history department.”

Freeland served as dean of UMass Boston from 1982 to 1992 and as president of Northeastern from 1996 to 2006, when he was succeeded by President Joseph Aoun. He also recently completed a year-long professorship at Harvard. Freeland said he did not wish to comment on the issue yet and it is unclear whether an offer to teach at Northeastern would affect a potential nomination as interim chancellor at UMass Amherst.

Northeastern officials said they had no comment on either matter.

Dobelle, who became president of NEBHE after leaving the University of Hawaii amid controversy in 2004, praised Freeland’s work in the Massachusetts education system.

“I think he’d be great for UMass,” Dobelle said. “[But] for all I know it could be the last thing he wants.”

In 2005 Dobelle presented Freeland with the New England Higher Education Merit Award for his “long career and achievements in higher education.”

Dobelle holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from UMass Amherst, as well as five of the university’s highest academic honors, but he expressed doubt about whether he would accept an offer to become interim-chancellor.

“At this time in my life to take off 12 months would be complicated,” Dobelle said. “I don’t feel comfortable taking a leave of absence from my job when I can’t compete for a permanent position. I’d have to know what the expectations and realities are.”

Asked how he would react if the board of trustees nominated him, Dobelle said, “I’d probably argue on Freeland’s behalf.”

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