Chancellor Moloney Working to Take UML to Next Level
By Amelia Pak-Harvey
LOWELL -- UMass Lowell's new leader Jacqueline Moloney hasn't slept much since starting the job on Aug. 1.
That's because the university's first-ever female chancellor has been busy -- meeting with senior leaders, launching a First 90-Day plan, and pursuing the overwhelming task of filling the shoes of her predecessor, now UMass President Marty Meehan.
"I was laughing at myself," Moloney said, recalling her convocation speech given to the university's largest incoming group yet. "Thinking, 'I'm telling them they should sleep 50 hours a week. I should take my own advice.'"
Lowell looks lively from her fourth-floor office overlooking the Merrimack River in the new University Crossing building.
"Last year at this time we were really just starting to open this building," she said. "It wasn't fully occupied because it wasn't fully complete."
But like everything at UMass Lowell since Meehan's tenure, doors just keep opening. Moloney's job is to make sure it stays that way.
"To watch the transformation that we went through under his leadership was phenomenal," said Moloney, who began at the university as director of a college prep program in 1984. "It just was inspiring and emboldened this whole campus, to embrace this idea that we do have the capacity to become a top public research university."
Moloney championed that desire for research as Meehan's executive vice chancellor, establishing the DifferenceMaker program that rewards students for innovative ideas or products.
Now, Moloney continues the completion of the university's 2020 Strategic Plan, which outlines ambitious goals by fall 2020 -- raise enrollment to 21,000 students, rank 60th in U.S. News and World Report's public universities listing, increase total full-time equivalent faculty to 887.
Since 2010, those numbers have steadily grown. But since last year, so have tuition and fees.
The increase to $13,427 for in-state undergraduates represents a 7.9 percent increase from last year, though officials note that tuition remained frozen for the past few years.
But Moloney calls the increase legitimate, and argues that students also share that opinion -- particularly since there are 900 students on the wait list this year.
"Our student loan ratio is still fairly modest when they graduate from the university," she said. "I think the other thing that our students appreciate, we continue to rise on the return on investment for our students. When they're coming here, they're evaluating, they're very smart."
Moloney also announced new Chancellor' 2020 Grants, 20 grants of up to $1,000 awarded to projects that help the school complete its 2020 Strategic Plan.
After opening 11 new buildings since 2009, even more are on the horizon, including the new Pulichino Tong business building and a "Makerspace" area for engineers.
The closure of A.H. Notini & Sons Inc. also launched rumors that UMass Lowell is interested in purchasing the wholesale distributor's Aiken Street property for continued expansion.
Yet Moloney said it would be premature to say anything about future plans.
"Obviously, we're always interested in looking at properties that are near the university that can help us," she said.
The school has also requested state funding to create a practice rink and basketball facility behind the Tsongas Center, she said.
A River Hawk herself, Moloney was the first in her family to go to college. She worked her way up over her 32 years at the university.
"I never thought, 'Oh gee, I'll be the chancellor some day,'" she said. "I wasn't the kind of person that set out that kind of path. But certainly I just always did the work that I loved and one thing led to another."
Students seem to click with Moloney, who greets them as they enter the University Crossing building. At the River Hawk Shop, senior Evan Miller immediately approaches her to talk about his fraternity's event.
"Students connect with the chancellor very quickly," said Associate Vice Chancellor Larry Siegel. "They do. She just really has a very warm personality. She's from here, not just the city but the university."
With the departure of Provost Ahmed Abdelal, who took an extended leave for health reasons, Moloney has tapped former vice provost Don Pierson for the top leadership post. Meanwhile, the university will conduct a national search that could take the whole academic year.
But as far as following in Meehan's footsteps, perhaps the shoe will fit just right.
"I think I'm very similar to UMass Lowell alums. I like to think we're a very tenacious group," she said. "It's very uncommon to have two alums back-to-back chancellors. I think we're both very similar -- tenacious, driven, passionate about making sure the next generation has the same opportunity that we had."