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'He Put Us in a Position to Grow'

The Legacy of Former Chancellor William T. Hogan

William T. Hogan speaks at UMass Lowell commencement
Wiiliam T. Hogan speaks at commencement.

11/27/2017
By Geoffrey Douglas

Over half a lifetime, William T. Hogan served UMass Lowell in nearly every leadership capacity—as professor, department head, college dean, vice president, president and chancellor—through all its modern incarnations and more than 40 years. And for the last quarter-century of his time here, he was chief architect of every landmark reached. Long before his death in June at the age of 84, Bill Hogan was known widely by one title: "Father of UMass Lowell."

"His visionary leadership had an invaluable impact on tens of thousands of students, faculty, staff and community members of Lowell," says current Chancellor Jacquie Moloney. "Over more than four decades, he led the transformation of an institution that is now among the strongest public research universities in the country."

His devotion began with a loyalty to the city he called home.

Born in 1933 in Lowell's Lower Highlands, the youngest child of a trolley driver and a stay-at-home mom, he began saving for college at age nine, depositing his paper-route earnings weekly in the Lowell Five Savings Bank. Graduation from Northeastern in 1955, with a B.A. in mechanical engineering, was followed by a two-year stint as a development engineer at the Army's Rocket Development Center in Alabama. (His passion for rocketry would never slacken: "I could listen for hours to his stories about the early space program," remembers former UMass Trustee William O'Shea.)

Then came master's and doctoral degrees, both from MIT, sandwiched around two jobs as lead scientist for a pair of Massachusetts research firms.

Along the way, he married Lowell native Mary Ellen Purtell '58; their 44-year union produced two daughters and a son. The couple settled in Chelmsford, where they remained until her death.

“His visionary leadership had an invaluable impact on tens of thousands of students, faculty, staff and community members of Lowell.” -Chancellor Jacquie Moloney
In the fall of 1963, his MIT doctorate fresh, Hogan accepted a job as professor of mechanical engineering at the Lowell Technological Institute, then just 10 years old. His plan was to stay five years. Somewhere along the line, though, he realized he had found his home.

"He was head of the department three years after his arrival, acting dean of engineering five years later, then dean in 1973. Two years after that, when Lowell Tech merged with Lowell State College, he was named the first vice president of academic affairs at the newly formed University of Lowell. Within six years, he was university president. In 1991, when ULowell joined the UMass system, he was the natural choice for chancellor.

From the start, he was a leader with a vision—and dogged in his pursuit of it. Between 1975 and 1985, enrollment increased 60 percent, while applications mushroomed to 7,000 a year. Meanwhile, the graduate school's size nearly tripled—from 242 master's degree students in the first year of the Hogan presidency to 720 a dozen years later. By the midpoint of his ULowell tenure, for the first time ever, every program in the College of Engineering had been awarded national accreditation. And toward the end of it, in the fall of 1989, as a realization of one of Hogan's dearest goals, the colleges of Liberal Arts and Pure and Applied Sciences, both holdovers from pre-merger days, were joined to form the new College of Arts and Sciences. For the president and his university, it was a heady time.

Then the recession slammed the region like a hammer shattering glass. Up and down Route 128, tech companies laid off workers; Wang Laboratories filed for bankruptcy, imperiling close to 5,000 local jobs. Education funding was cut, driving tuitions higher. Enrollment plummeted. In 1990, the last year of ULowell, there were layoffs in nearly every department—which, for Hogan, hit home in the most personal sort of way.

Ironically, though, it was to be the start of his finest hour. Over the next several years, as chancellor of the newly formed UMass Lowell, he helped redefine the university's mission, fusing its prospects with that of Lowell and the Merrimack Valley to create a sustainable regional economy, powered by a skilled workforce and the continuous development of new technology.

William T. Hogan stands in front of construction in Lowell
"The only possible chance we have of producing a robust economy over a long period of time," he said in announcing this new mission, "is to produce a continuous, unbroken flow of young people who are both well-educated and well-trained."

The twin keys to all this were teaching and research. The first was already well established: the new accreditations, the explosive growth of graduate programs, an increasingly accomplished faculty. By the early 1990s, the framework for a research university—which included two new centers, the Institute for Plastics Innovation and the Center for Advanced Materials—was also firmly in place.

The recession ceased, and well before the turn of the new millennium, the university was again on solid ground. And Hogan was on to new horizons: the Tsongas Center, a joint venture with the city, was completed in 1998, followed soon after by the $20 million campus recreation center on Aiken Street. Finally, in the last year of his tenure, came the announcement of a plan for a $266 million transformation of all three campuses, which foreshadowed the explosion of new construction that followed.

In October 2003, five days after their 44th anniversary, Hogan lost his wife, Mary, to cancer. He would remain as chancellor three more years before retiring, in July 2006. Nine days later, on July 15 of that year, he married for the second time—to Barbara Jo McNutt.

The growth and success that has continued for more than a decade since Hogan retired would not have been possible without his vision, says Chancellor Moloney.

"Not only did we inherit from him a world-class faculty that was ready to go to the next level," she says, "but without his fiscal foresight, we would not have been able to build all that we have. He put us in a position to grow."