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Big plans, big cheers for UML's next chief

By From the Lowell Sun

By Matt Murphy
Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- Congressman Marty Meehan may be leaving Capitol Hill for the halls of academia.

But the politician who has served the 5th Congressional District for the past 14-plus years still knows how to work a crowd.

A boisterous Alumni Hall audience greeted Meehan with a standing ovation yesterday as he was introduced for the first time to the university community as the new chancellor of UMass Lowell.

Pledging to "work very hard every minute to make the university proud," Meehan addressed the need to aggressively pursue new funding, rebuild the campus and invest in new research and sciences that will drive the economy of both the city and the region.

The UMass board of trustees unanimously confirmed President Jack Wilson's selection of Meehan, an alumnus of UMass Lowell, to be that campus' next chancellor yesterday morning at a meeting in Worcester at the UMass Medical School.

Meehan will replace William Hogan, who resigned last July after 25 years at the helm.

"Marty won't be able to be everything for all people. But what the campus needs is someone to provide a vision that the entire campus can support and feel they are a part of it. Marty will be able to do that," said interim Chancellor David MacKenzie, who also served on the search committee.

Wilson called Meehan a "leader and innovator with a demonstrated passion for higher education, in general, and UMass Lowell, in particular."

The trustees praised Meehan's accomplishments in Congress and optimism for his future with UMass.

"It's always nice to be able to bring home the bacon," joked UMass President Jack Wilson, referring to Meehan's prowess for fundraising and pledge to aggressively pursue private, corporate and government funding as chancellor.

"But what put him over the top is his passion," Wilson said.

Meehan and Wilson left Worcester for a reception in Lowell at Alumni Hall where Wilson introduced Meehan to a wall-to-wall crowd of close to 200 friends, students, faculty and university staff.

He was joined by his wife, Ellen Meehan, and two young sons, Daniel, 4. and Robert, 7, who wore a blue UMass Lowell River Hawks golf shirt.

The entire Lowell legislative delegation, several members of the City Council, including congressional candidate Eileen Donoghue, and one-time staff members, also went to wish him well.

Calling himself "inspired" every time he set foot on campus, Meehan talked about his excitement to start his new job, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.

He said he is committed to securing the funding necessary to revitalize the campus's infrastructure and classrooms, stressed the importance of expanding nanotechnology and biomanufacturing research that will create jobs, and stated his desire to attract top-flight students from around the country and the world.

Heather Makrez, a graduate student and student trustee who served on the search committee, said Meehan has repeatedly made a commitment to including students in the discussion about the future of the university.

She said he understands the need for new cutting-edge laboratories and classrooms for both the sciences and humanities.

Plastics engineering professor Stephen McCarthy said Meehan also understands the importance of research, and has shown a strong commitment to green technology.

"I think it's great that he will be able to perform a lot of fundraising to improve the facilities here so we can continue to do the state-of-the-art research."

Meehan, who plans to start work at UMass Lowell by July 1, leaves a position of power in the new Democratic Congress where he has carved a national profile by tackling key issues like campaign finance reform.

He has also fought to provide U.S. troops in Iraq with the armor and services they need, while emerging as a vocal critic of the war and President Bush's plan to increase troops on the ground.

Meehan said he plans to finish the Congressional hearings he has started on the rebuilding of Iraq, but is not looking back.

"The work of the University of Massachusetts is every bit as important. This state will thrive only as the University of Massachusetts thrives. We are in an innovation economy, and universities fuel innovations," he said.

Since Meehan was elected in 1992, UMass Lowell has received almost $209 million in federal funds, much of which went toward scientific research on campus championed by the congressman.

The university has plans to construct a new $80 million nanomanufacturing center in Lowell and is poised to push forward with a $266 million renovation project on both the north and south campus, unveiled last year by Hogan.

John Davis, vice chancellor for university advancement, said Meehan will also be a key to the success of the university's goal of increasing its endowment to $40 million by 2009.

Two years into the ambitious effort, Davis said university officials have increased Lowell's endowment from $20 million to about $27 million.

Meehan plans to submit his letter of resignation to Gov. Deval Patrick within one to two weeks. When he does, Patrick will set a date for a special election within 145 to 160 days.

With just about five months to campaign, all but two of the crowded field of Democrats lining up to replace Meehan attended his Alumni Hall introduction ceremony.

Middlesex Sheriff James DiPaola and state Rep. James Miceli, D-Wilmington, did not attend.

Wilson said Meehan's three-year contract is still being finalized.