The only finalist candidate for the top job at the University of Massachusetts Boston visited the Dorchester campus on Friday.
Dr. Marcelo Suárez-Orozco is dean of graduate education and information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles — another large public research university.
"My doors, as dean, are always open,” Suárez-Orozco told reporters after speaking to alumni on campus. “I meet with students, I meet with community members, I meet with scholars. That's how I learn."
Suárez-Orozco is an Argentine immigrant who started his college career as a community college transfer student. He said that experience will help unite a campus, which is facing both financial and morale challenges.
"I'm an immigrant, and immigrants live looking forward. But we only make meaning looking back,” said Suarez-Orozco, who off-the-cuff cites philosophers like Leo Tolstoy and Søren Kierkegaard. “As human beings, we have this biological equipment that makes us take the world looking forward, but we only make meaning looking back. So I need to learn more about where we are, with the understanding that the best is yet to come."
UMass Boston has seen its fair share of leadership turmoil.
Former chancellor Keith Motley stepped down in 2017, although his supporters say he was forced out by UMass President Marty Meehan and the Board of Trustees — blamed for the campus’ budget deficit.
A search to find a permanent successor to Motley ended unceremoniously in April 2018, with all three finalists withdrawing their names.
Since then, Katherine Newman has held the position of interim chancellor.
Meehan is expected to recommend Suárez-Orozco to the Board of Trustees as early as next week.
Before a search committee announced Suárez-Orozco as the lone finalist, Meehan said he flew to Los Angeles in December to meet with him and his wife, Dr. Carola Suárez-Orozco, a psychologist who studies immigration and a professor of human development and psychology at UCLA.
“I thought he’d be a great a candidate,” said Meehan, who, as a member of Congress, was on an immigration panel with Suárez-Orozco. “Obviously, I’m excited about him. He’s got an international reputation.”
On Thursday, five faculty members on the search committee sent a letter to their colleagues, explaining why several finalists had dropped out of the public search.
“This is a common feature of public searches, particularly when there is a strong frontrunner,” they wrote. “Fortunately, the one and only consensus candidate who remained in the field … was the Committee’s top choice all along.”
Meehan said the next chancellor’s greatest challenge will be uniting a divided campus.
“We need a leader who can get us there, and part of it is going to be the ability to raise money privately,” Meehan said.
If selected to be UMass Boston's chancellor, Suárez-Orozco would become the first Hispanic chancellor in the UMass system.
Asked what he thought would be his biggest challenge, Suárez-Orozco smiled and joked, "No hablo inglés!"
After a short beat, he continued, "There are no challenges that are too big.”