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MCC’s Mabry Has Well-known Lowell Lawyer Behind Him in ‘confidence’ Battle

March 7, 2019

LOWELL -- Embattled Middlesex Community College President James Mabry, who last week suffered a no-confidence blow from the college’s professional association union, apparently has a strong political ally in the city.

Lowell lawyer Michael Gallagher -- who has been involved in many noteworthy civic and political issues in the city, including the high school debate and voter-rights lawsuit -- recently wrote a letter to the chairman of MCC’s board of trustees, advocating “in strong support” of Mabry.

Last Thursday, MCC’s board of trustees voted to support the leadership of Mabry. Later that day, the MCC union took a vote of no confidence in both Mabry and Board of Trustees Chairman James Campbell.

In Gallagher’s letter to the board chair, he emphasized Mabry’s accomplishments over the last few years at the college, and touted the president’s community partnerships.

“My point here is that as one Lowell-area community member, I can personally attest to how community-oriented and effective Dr. Mabry has been and continues to be -- again, in support of MCC’s students,” Gallagher wrote.

In the letter, he mentions how he was inspired by Mabry to establish a MCC scholarship in his wife’s name for Lowell High School graduates who want to enroll in MCC’s nursing program.

Gallagher at the end of the letter thanked Campbell and the board for supporting Mabry.

“When leaders take tough and principled stands, it is enormously helpful for them to have Boards and Board Chairs who stand with them, and so for your and the Board’s support of this great institution and its President, I am most grateful,” Gallagher wrote.

When asked why he felt it was so important to write this letter and insert himself into the MCC situation, Gallagher pointed to MCC’s significant role in the city and the region.

“It’s important to speak up about this,” Gallagher said Wednesday morning. “In my view, he (Mabry) is the real deal.”

Mabry on Wednesday recalled meeting Gallagher shortly after he arrived in Lowell, helping the president meet community and business leaders. Through those introductions, Mabry was able to develop relationships with groups across the city, he said.

Mabry called Gallagher a “committed member of the community.”

“He’s somebody who puts a lot of effort into making Lowell a better place,” Mabry said of Gallagher.

Highlighting Mabry’s strong performance over the last few years, he pointed to MCC getting ranked No. 1 on the list of best community colleges in Massachusetts.

Gallagher added that the president is a strong and effective leader, saying he hopes Mabry and the union can work out their differences.

“I can also project that knowing Dr. Mabry, he will do whatever is necessary -- in a civil and professional, but focused and relentless, fashion -- to address and resolve them,” Gallagher said of the issues raised by union members.

In the wake of last week’s no-confidence vote, MCC Professional Association President Joanna DelMonaco sent an email to Mabry and Campbell, formally notifying them of the unprecedented vote.

“This decision was made after lengthy discussion at an historic meeting with the largest turnout of our members in recent memory,” DelMonaco wrote to the president and chairman.

The union is now discussing next steps. A letter to Gov. Charlie Baker about their vote could be coming.

When asked Wednesday about Gallagher’s letter supporting Mabry, DelMonaco said she was unaware of the letter and declined to comment further.

The board chairman, Campbell, said that Gallagher’s letter praising Mabry certainly speaks for itself, adding that he’s pleased Gallagher wrote it. Campbell stressed that the board and president are working to resolve the issues with the union.

The chairman was asked about the no-confidence vote in him leading the board.

“I feel it’s a price I’m paying for supporting the administration,” said Campbell, a Lowell resident and former city manager. “And the facts speak for themselves for why I’m supporting the administration. When I receive a report from the U.S. Department of Education, stating MCC was ranked No. 10 three years ago and is now ranked No. 1 in the state, it tells me we’re doing something right.”

Campbell wanted the trustees last Thursday to take a confidence vote in Mabry, but some trustees objected because Campbell’s initiative was not listed on the meeting agenda and likely would have resulted in a possible violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law. The board ended up passing a “support the leadership” of Middlesex motion, a far cry from a vote of confidence.

Campbell acknowledged there’s room for improvement, and that they’re committed to resolving the issues with the union.

Attempts to reach the members of MCC Board of Trustees’ Ad-Hoc Subcommittee -- Cheryl Howard, Annie O’Connor and Linda Banks-Santilli -- were unsuccessful.

The no-confidence vote followed a recent survey of the school’s faculty and staff, which was critical of Mabry’s leadership.

Last week in response to the union’s vote of no confidence, Mabry said he would stick to the board’s instructions to work with the union.

“I have pledged that I will give that my total effort,” Mabry said.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.