Celebration to Raise Profile and Money

03/07/2008
By From the Lowell Sun

By Matt Murphy

LOWELL -- It's never too late to throw a good party.

Early next month, UMass Lowell will play host to its first inauguration in more than 25 years, celebrating Chancellor Marty Meehan's transition from Congress to academia.

Though he officially took over the university last July 1, tradition holds that a university simply schedule an inauguration sometime within the new leader's first year.

Ostensibly a weeklong opportunity to fete Meehan, UMass Lowell officials hope the festivities become less of a coronation and more of an opportunity to showcase the university to the community, alumni and potential donors.

More than $300,000 in private donations have already been secured to support inauguration week, with proceeds intended to go toward several existing scholarship funds at the university. No public university funding will be spent on the festivities, though officials said they are still conscious of keeping costs to a minimum.

"The whole idea behind the inauguration is to highlight and focus on all the great work the university does," said Patricia McCafferty, chief public affairs officer for UMass Lowell. "We haven't had an inauguration in over 25 years, so this also provides an opportunity to raise money for scholarships."

Running from March 31 though April 4, Meehan's inauguration will serve as one giant fundraiser, including a V.I.P. reception that Thursday night at the Allen House on South Campus for which tickets will be sold for $1,000 per person.

The guest list could include a number of Meehan's former colleagues in Congress, to whom dozens of invitations have been sent, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Pelosi will deliver the keynote address Friday morning, April 4, at the official inauguration ceremony, but officials hope the Democratic party leader will be able to make it to Lowell in time for the gala the night before.

Gov. Deval Patrick also plans to attend Friday's ceremony.

Preceding the benefit gala Thursday night, UMass Lowell will host a concert at Durgin Hall featuring the university orchestra, led by Professor Kay Roberts. Andre Dubus, the award-winning author of House of Sand and Fog and a professor at UMass Lowell, will also read from his work.

Tickets for the concert and reception will be sold for $100 apiece.

With the exception of these two events, the rest of the week will be free and open to the public. Many staples of the university's annual event calendar have been incorporated into the inaugural festivities, including a guest lecture from Jonathan Kozol, the best-selling author of many nonfiction novels including Rachel and Her Children and Amazing Grace. Kozol, a Boston native, is a favorite author of Meehan's.

"It's certainly a different model than what has been done in the past," McCafferty said. "We want to make sure people have a choice of what they can do. We also want to take advantage of the opportunity to raise money for scholarships for the school with events that give people a chance to give to the university and support public higher education."

University officials said they could not provide cost estimates for the week, including catering and other expenses, but said the goal is to spend as little as possible by holding events on campus.

Tickets for the two main fundraising events have just gone on sale, but major donors have already come through with sizable contributions.

Raytheon has chipped in $25,000 for the celebration, as has The Sun, and George Behrakis, the former owner of Tewksbury-based Muro Pharmaceuticals and now a major philanthropist in the region.

Richard and Nancy Donahue, of Lowell, contributed $10,000 for the week, as did Rob Manning, a UMass Lowell alumnus and chairman of the UMass board of trustees.

The majority of the donations raised for Meehan's inauguration will go toward student scholarship programs on campus, including the Chancellor Martin T. Meehan Educational Excellence Endowment Fund and the Music Education Endowment.

Lavish inaugurations have come under fire in recent years, namely in 2006 when state Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-Lowell, lambasted former UMass Boston Chancellor Michael Collins for spending more than $512,000 on his inauguration.

The bulk of the festivities, including opulent dinners at the J.F.K. Library, were paid for with private donations, but the university did use $113,000 in public funding to support the week.

Murphy, along with others, said UMass Boston wasted the generosity of donors on parties instead of putting the money back into the university.

Murphy said it did not appear that UMass Lowell was wandering down the same path.

"I don't think public universities should be treated any differently than private ones," Murphy said. "As long as the inauguration is affordable, I don't have a problem with it. People are going to have pride in the university and this is one way to celebrate that pride and bring attention to it."

For more information on tickets and events, visit www.uml.edu/chancellor/inauguration.