Former US attorney investigates presidential search process

April 25, 2018

Suffolk University has hired legal counsel to investigate the Presidential Search process, which has brought yet more controversy to the university’s roughly decade-long presidential carousel.

Yurko, Salvesen & Remz P.C., a Boston-based law firm that specializes in resolving business disputes, was recently employed by the university to review the search and is being spearheaded by former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Donald K. Stern.

This legal intervention comes off the heels of a whirlwind of rumors alleging violations within the search process. Last week, John J. McDonnell resigned his position as a member of Suffolk Board of Trustees and called for an outside independent investigation. McDonnell did not immediately respond to The Suffolk Journal for a comment on the investigation.

This week, Dr. Robert Rosenthal, Suffolk associate professor and department chair of Advertising, Public Relations and Digital Media, drafted a note for now permanent university President Marisa Kelly. This note, that can be signed by College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) chairs was designed to congratulate Kelly on her appointment and express excitement in the prospect of working with her, according to Rosenthal in an interview on Tuesday night.

“A number of chairs have indicated that they are going to sign it,” said Rosenthal, who anticipated a tally to be recorded Thursday. “It’s an expression of our confidence in President Kelly.”

Kelly was involved only by proxy to the controversy surrounding the presidential search, which began after an inflammatory letter was circulated around the university that alleged violations in the search process and painted Trustee Chair Robert Lamb as the cause of the alleged violations. The anonymous memo characterized Lamb as a quasi-tyrannical figure during the presidential search process and claimed that he “hijacked” the board’s decision on the final days leading up to the appointment of Kelly. Many aspects of this memo have been disproven by The Suffolk Journal, but the general timeline provided has been confirmed by multiple sources.

Sawyer Business School (SBS) faculty did not respond as warmly to the presidential decision as Suffolk’s CAS. Last week, SBS faculty put forth a motion at a faculty senate meeting to take a vote of no confidence in Lamb. This initial meeting ran out of time and was rescheduled until the next meeting on May 3, according to the Boston Globe. An email obtained by the Globe expressed the SBS faculty senate’s sentiments.

“Evidence from different sources indicate the Presidential search procedures agreed to . . . Were compromised by the direct and indirect actions of Board Chair Robert Lamb which has negatively impacted Suffolk University students, faculty, alumni and staff,” said the email according to The Globe.

Rosenthal has expressed support for Kelly, as well as Lamb.

“Lamb has done more for good governance at the Board level than anyone that has been on the Board in my 35 years at the university,” said Rosenthal. “If people legitimately feel that there’s is an issue with the process they certainly have an opportunity to express that.”

The most prominent point of dissention regarding the search process was the university’s decision for it to remain confidential. All members of the presidential search committee signed a non-disclosure agreement, effectively making it illegal for them to discuss any matters regarding the search. This has made the process an ongoing controversial enigma in the weeks following the search.

AGB Search, hired by the university to help guide the electoral process, did not recommend a closed search to the PSC or the Board of Trustees, according to a recent email from the search firm to The Journal.

“That decision was made by the university’s presidential search committee,” stated the email. “As a matter of practice, AGB Search guides the institutional process, it does not make final decisions about the search itself.”

Multiple unnamed sources, who remained so because of the nondisclosure agreement, claimed that one of the finalists was a client of AGB Search’s placement function, but AGB Search refuted that.

AGB Search representatives did not immediately return phone calls to comment.

Earlier this month, the Faculty Senate passed a four-part motion, the latter of which requesting the confidentiality agreement be revisited. This motion passed 11-0, according to an email from Faculty Senate co-chair Colette Dumas.

“We also request that all members of the Presidential Search Committee be released from any confidentiality restrictions that they may have about the process, as the Presidential Search is now complete,” read the passed motion, sent to The Journal by Dumas.

Days after the vote, Head of the PSC John Brooks made a statement of rejection in regards to the Faculty Senate’s motion.

“It remains in the best interest Suffolk University to continue to honor the strict confidentiality of the search process,” said Brooks.


Editor’s Note: In the print version of this article, Suffolk Board Audit Committee Chair Robert Johnson was attributed with a quote that was from an email from the SBS faculty obtained by The Boston Globe. The Audit Committee Chair’s name has been removed from this article, and attribution has been corrected in the online catalog. Johnson confirmed the hiring of Yurko, Salvensen & Remz P.C. to review the search, according to The Globe. 

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    Tom JacobsApr 29, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    Dr. Rosenthal’s support of the new President is a nice gesture. However, she was elected by a corrupt search process. This is the issue. Lamb will be removed and more Trustees should resign once the investigation is complete.

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    Paul D. McLaughlinApr 26, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    As a 1974 graduate I was once proud to have graduated from Suffolk. Suffolk gave me an opportunity that I took full advantage of. Last June I retired as the founding CEO of a faith-based charitable foundation in NC, after 20 years.

    I helped people hive over $60,000,000 in planned and outright gifts. But I also created my own plan that had Suffolk as a beneficiary; however, after all the turmoil and wasted money I removed Suffolk from my plan.

    One would have thought after all the previous debacles, the Board of Trustees would have learned. I would suggest that no other college or university should be more experienced in presidential searches than Suffolk.

    Nevertheless, practice does not make perfect. The Board spends a six figure sum, employs a reputable search firm and the process is undermined the last minute, the top two candidates are treated poorly and the acting President, who was not a finalist gets the job, with a divided vote.

    Now the University employing an expensive investigator to find out what happened.

    Good Lord!

    I can’t help but think how all the money spent on hiring, firing…could have used for scholarships, raises for staff and the like. This is why Suffolk will never get a penny from me. I am sorry, but I worked hard for the little I have.

    Paul D. McLaughlin CLAS 1974

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    Samantha SmithApr 25, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    Couldn’t agree with Professor Rosthenal more. Those that believe that Bob Lamb has done anything improper do not know what they are talking about. It’s about time that we have a Board Chair that actually acts in the best interest of Suffolk.