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Longtime State Senate President Will Head University of Massachusetts

November 29, 1995

BOSTON (AP) _ One of Massachusetts’ most powerful politicians is trading in his longtime career as head of the state Senate to lead the university system.

William M. Bulger said he has for a long time considered ending his 34-year legislative stint _ 17 years of which have been spent as senate president. Bulger was named Tuesday to head the University of Massachusetts.

Bulger immediately accepted the job, which will boost his annual income from $81,410 to at least $189,000. He said he planned to leave his current job in December or January.

The UMass trustees voted 16-1 to offer him the job. Bulger’s name surfaced almost immediately in the spring when Michael Hooker announced in May he was stepping down as UMass president to become chancellor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Ironically, the man who is pledging to change the public image of UMass has a perception problem of his own.

Bulger, a Democrat, has been criticized for running the Senate in a dictatorial fashion, with veiled threats and heavy-handed power plays.

His brother, James ``Whitey″ Bulger, is considered one of the most powerful underworld figures in the Boston area. He has been a fugitive since he was indicted on racketeering and extortion charges in January.

The 61-year-old Senate president has refused to discuss his brother.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Thomas Birmingham, who has lined up enough support to replace Bulger as Senate president, said the public image of William Bulger has been twisted by his opponents and the media.

``You don’t survive as 17 years as president of the Senate, an institution filled with 40 talented and eclectic officials, without being able to reach consensus and support,″ Birmingham said.

The trustee who voted against Bulger, Ogretta McNeil, said she had reservations about his ``total record,″ but would not elaborate.

``It’s not helpful to focus on any specifics. The fact is all of my colleagues supported him, except me, and so I’m hoping I’m wrong and they’re right,″ said McNeil, a professor at Holy Cross College.

Bulger said Tuesday he hoped to turn around the perception that the University of Massachusetts is a ``fall-back″ choice among potential college students.

``There’s a sense that people don’t see it as a top-quality place of learning,″ Bulger said. ``I think we have to do something about that perception.″

The UMass system has more than 50,000 students at four campuses and a medical school.

Bulger is the latest of several politicians-turned-educators across the nation.

Republican Gov. William F. Weld, who supported Bulger’s appointment, said it will ``be hard to get rid of″ the perception that the UMass job was handed to Bulger. And Peter Lewenberg, head of the search committee, acknowledged that he would never convince ``the cynics″ that the fix wasn’t in for Bulger from the beginning.

``For anybody to think the appointment of a president is not a political process hasn’t been looking at presidential appointments,″ said Michael Olivas, director of the national Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance and associate dean at the University of Houston law school.

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