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The Boston Globe

Emotional Resignation


September 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Boston Globe, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

Ismael Ramirez-Soto was the first Latino academic dean in the history of the University of Massachusetts at Boston. The key word is was: He stepped down Aug. 29, feeling cast aside by an administration that he felt no longer wanted him.

His resignation from the top position at the College of Public and Community Service, commonly known as CPCS, has set off emotions on campus that Chancellor Jo Ann Gora and her staff might have anticipated, but clearly didn't.

Ramirez-Soto stepped down after negotiations for a new contract as dean faltered over the summer. Under the terms of his previous, five-year pact, he had the right, if he joined the faculty, to a job that could lead to tenure, the security all academics crave.

However, in the latest contract he was offered, that provision was gone, replaced by a clause that meant, essentially, he would have a two-year deal as a professor and would then likely have to leave the university.

This despite a glowing performance review recently, as well as solid reviews for the college.

"I have fought for having the same status other faculty members have, a tenure-track position and the right to work for tenure," Ramirez-Soto said.

"To ask me to forfeit that and to ask me to make my contract a terminal one was untenable, and, to tell you the truth, an affront."

The administration's move on Ramirez-Soto came as a surprise to many on campus, where he has been viewed as a hard-working and creative dean, admired by colleagues and students.

"It's really upsetting that we had such a great leader here and they took him away," said Maria Luisa Plasencia, a junior majoring in sociology.

UMass-Boston provost Paul Fonteyn, who made the decisions that led to Ramirez-Soto's resignation, flatly denies that Ramirez-Soto was forced out. He says he wanted him to remain at the helm of CPCS, but that changes were necessary to bring Ramirez-Soto's contract in line with those of other deans.

He also expressed serious doubts that Ramirez-Soto, an attorney and longtime college administrator in Puerto Rico with a doctorate in education, has the research background to earn tenure.

To continue the deal Ramirez-Soto had negotiated with the previous administration, Fonteyn said, would be to perpetuate a wrong.

"I want to say if you come from outside and you don't have traditional academic credentials that would allow you to effectively teach students and effectively do research, the best I can offer is a two-year appointment," the provost said.

This might be as good a time as any to mention that the entire UMass system was run, until three weeks ago, by a longtime political powerbroker who lacked what the provost would call traditional academic credentials.

This controversy comes at a bad time for the campus, which has seen the departure of at least nine black and Latino administrators since 2001. Fonteyn notes that many left for more prestigious institutions and some of them have been replaced by other people of color. Still, the perception that the atmosphere at UMass-Boston leaves something to be desired is slowly taking hold.

The president's office released a statement late yesterday acknowledging as much. It announced that the Committee on Campus Climate would be looking into "expressions of racial concern" and reporting them to a newly formed trustee task force headed by Karl E. White, the sole African-American member of the UMass Board of Trustees.

"If people feel uneasy and aggrieved, we want to explore that and rectify that, if possible," said UMass vice president Robert Connolly. There are probably a lot of people at CPCS who would be eager to talk to the new task force.

"Diversity's face needs to be reflected in the makeup of the campus," Ramirez-Soto said.

"I don't think the strategies that they're using are being successful."

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