There's a Better Way to Put a Roof over the Head of a UMass President

Monday, November 14, 2016

What could be more obvious in human behavior than this: rational human beings act in their own economic self-interest.  

Thus, it was no surprise when Marty Meehan, former representative in the U.S. House from the Third Massachusetts District and current President of the University of Massachusetts, decided last month to buy a $975,000 condo in Boston and pay the mortgage on it with the $60,000 annual housing allowance granted him by the state.

Meehan, who was appointed UMass President last year, works mainly in an office at One Beacon Street, in downtown Boston, and had been renting an apartment nearby for $3,900 a month.  When his landlord raised the rent, he realized he’d be better off buying a place in order to gain equity and make a profit upon selling it.
Meehan and his family own and occupy a home in Andover.  He told the Lowell Sun he intends to use his new condo, which has two bedrooms, for meetings and meals with prospective university donors.  No doubt he’ll be staying there overnight when he has business keeping him in Boston during the evening hours and an early-morning meeting the next day.

Meehan’s immediate successor, Robert Caret, also used his housing allowance to acquire a Boston condo; Caret bought his for $880,000 and sold it for $1.3 million, a profit of $420,000.
Gregory Sullivan, the state’s Inspector General at the time, pointed out that the public got nothing from Caret’s real estate deal even though he had paid the mortgage on it with public money derived through his employment contract with UMass.  That, of course, was entirely legal.   But it got IG Sullivan wondering if it would be better for the state to purchase an official residence for the leader of the UMass system.  Many public universities in the U.S. do so.

“Ultimately, all you are paying for vaporizes, and you are not getting a return on it,” Sullivan told the Boston Globe.  “To me, it probably makes sense to use the $60,000 to pay for a property.”
I have a better idea. 

The state should change the plan for a dormitory now under construction on the campus of UMass Boston to include a modest three-room suite -- large living room, small kitchen, average-sized bedroom -- for the university president to use when he wants to entertain or stay in Boston overnight.  That dorm is due to open in the fall of 2018.
Once the dorm, with my suggested alteration, is ready for occupancy, the $60,000 housing allowance should be eliminated and the money applied to a program or purpose directly benefiting university students.

On-campus housing would have the added benefit of putting the president routinely in contact with students and front-line members of the staff and faculty.


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