Former Bowdoin President Barry Mills was named the deputy chancellor and chief operating officer of University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass), the university announced yesterday. Mills will oversee the university’s academic and research programs and work alongside UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley on the university’s long-term strategy.
Mills left Bowdoin after the 2014-15 academic year. While he has spent time consulting and investing and has had opportunities to re-enter the world of education since his departure, his interest in public education drew him to UMass.
“I’ve been very interested in public education and the challenges of public education and the opportunities,” Mills said in a phone interview with the Orient. “[UMass] is a very different opportunity from Bowdoin in terms of scale. Trying to understand how public universities effectively educate large numbers of students so that they can be great citizens, get good jobs and take care of their families was really interesting to me.”
Mills said that access to funding and resources was one of the main challenges for public universities like UMass.
“At Bowdoin we’re really very, very fortunate to have the kind of resource that supports the place, both in terms of our endowment, in terms of the people being willing to support the school,” he said. “It’s a very different story in public education.”
In November, the Boston Globe reported that UMass Boston was facing a budget gap of over $22 million, forcing the university to increase tuition while cutting the number of professors and classes.
In the short term, Mills expressed his desire to connect with the UMass community. Although he has spent time consulting in the UMass system, Mills emphasized that he still had much to learn.
“I really need to go and get educated about the school and how to expand and understand its culture—what it does really, really well, and where it could improve, really get to know the people,” he said.
Mills noted that the university’s size—it enrolls nearly 13,000 undergraduate and over 4,000 graduate students—and its status as a public school make his new job very different from what he did at Bowdoin.
“Someone asked me today, ‘So [are] you going to take what you did at Bowdoin and then try to implement it at UMass Boston?’” Mills said. “They’re very, very different places, so what I’m going to try to do is take the experience and judgement that I gained from working at Bowdoin and try to amplify that to make it work at this public university.”
Mills cited graduation rates as one area of focus. The six-year graduation rate for UMass Boston is 42 percent, according to the university’s Common Data Set, compared to a six-year graduation rate of 93 percent at Bowdoin.
In a statement, UMass President Marty Meehan said he was excited to have Mills as part of UMass.
“Given UMass Boston’s importance to the city, the state and to the many thousands of students who come through its doors, we are very fortunate to have someone with Barry Mills’ experience, expertise and commitment take on this critical role,” Meehan said.