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UMass president avoids dismissal

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BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts trustees decided Thursday to keep William Bulger as president despite an uproar over his relationship with his mobster brother.

Bulger has not broken any laws and the board chose to keep him because of his distinguished record as the university's president, said Board of Trustees chairwoman Grace Fey after the six-hour meeting to discuss Bulger's future. The board did not take a formal vote and trustees declined to publicly say how many had dissented from the decision.

"The evidence is that the quality of our students, our fund-raising and research funding have all increased dramatically in recent years," Fey said.

Bulger has come under increasing criticism in recent weeks over his relationship with James "Whitey" Bulger, who is on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list in connection with 21 murders and has been on the lam since 1995.

In grand jury testimony two years ago, William Bulger — a former Democratic state Senate president hired to run the university in 1996 — said he had no idea where his brother was and spoke to him only once while he was on the run. He has said he did not feel obligated to alert authorities to "a private conversation."

Bulger testified last week before a congressional committee under a deal granting him immunity from prosecution. He said that he had no idea where his brother was.

Afterward, Gov. Mitt Romney called for his resignation, saying the national spectacle of the university president testifying about the mob before Congress embarrassed the institution, its students and alumni.

"As we look forward, the university needs new leadership and there is a growing chorus to that effect," Romney said Wednesday. "Hopefully the trustees will listen carefully to that chorus."

F. Lawrence Boyle last week became the first UMass trustee to publicly call on Bulger to resign, saying he was concerned about the school's reputation.

The Republican governor and Bulger have been at odds since January, when Romney took office and vowed to eliminate the post of UMass president.

Bulger declined an invitation to sit in on the trustees' meeting.

"I deeply appreciate the board's expression of support and am grateful to all who judge me on my own merits," Bulger said in a statement. "I will strive to be deserving of such support."

Under his contract, which expires in 2007, the trustees could fire him for "just cause" or for breaking a state, federal or university rule "where such misconduct clearly results in damage to the university."