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Romney tells university president to resign

He says Bulger has shown he’s unfit to lead

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Gov. Mitt Romney Friday called on University of Massachusetts President William M. Bulger to resign, keeping his battle with Bulger alive a day after the Legislature let him keep his job.

Romney said the "personal and caustic nature" of Bulger's response to criticism in recent weeks shows he is unfit to lead the university system, and — going one step farther than he did earlier this week — called on him to step down for the good of the five UMass campuses.

"I believe that the time has come for the president to place the interests of the students and the university above his own interests, and to step aside as president," Romney said at a State House press conference. "We'll continue to call for and look for new leadership in the president's office."

Bulger has vowed to stay in his post. Romney continued to highlight the Bulger issue this week even after the Senate voted Thursday to maintain his office. Earlier this week, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly called on Bulger to resign, saying he should not be leading a public university given his lack of effort in helping authorities catch his fugitive brother, James "Whitey" Bulger.

A Bulger spokesman, John Hoey, said the former Senate president intends to serve at UMass through the end of his contract, in mid-2007. He portrayed Romney's comments as a continuation of a theme sounded since February, when the governor filed a budget proposal that would have eliminated the post of UMass president, ousting Bulger.

"By any measure, the university has made great strides over the last seven years, but there remains much work to be done," Hoey said. "The president has no intention of leaving."

While the UMass trustees could remove Bulger, the board has consistently voiced its support for Bulger. But calls by Romney and Reilly for his resignation could stoke concern that Bulger's long-standing ties to Beacon Hill leaders are weakening.

Board of trustees members serve staggered five-year terms. Romney won't make his first appointments until the fall, and he won't control a majority of the 22-member board until 2006.

While the governor has little control over the UMass system beyond appointments to the board, Romney has found other ways to rein in Bulger's authority. The governor's top fiscal aide canceled a bond issue sought by Bulger's office to build dorms at UMass-Boston. The administration could also press Bulger to release more details of its finances, which are guarded by the UMass president's office, and inject more scrutiny into the way Bulger chooses to spend UMass funds.

Legislative leaders said Romney's remarks Friday prove the governor has been more interested in taking on Bulger personally than he is in seriously remaking the UMass management structure. Romney could benefit politically from his attempt to oust Bulger, who has come under fire for not doing more to help authorities track down his brother.

"Bill Bulger has demonstrated the tremendous success of creating a bridge between the public university with the private benefactors," said state Representative Peter J. Larkin, a Pittsfield Democrat who serves as assistant vice chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee. "It's become very personal. I don't think the governor can argue that he's above the fray."

Union officials from UMass's Dartmouth and Amherst campuses voiced their support for Bulger Friday, and urged the governor to back off from his attempt to remove him.

"The governor has exploited President Bulger's family issues in order to camouflage the real agenda: cutting funding to public higher education and seizing direct political control of what is left," said Daniel Georgianna, president of the UMass Faculty Federation at UMass-Dartmouth.

In March, Bulger accused Romney of "arrogance" and "elitism" in his proposal to revamp public higher education and eliminate the UMass presidency. And this week, Bulger responded to Reilly's call for him to resign by saying the attorney general was trying to seek "political advantage, wherever it can be found, no matter how shameless or shabby those efforts may be."

Those comments, Romney said, were inappropriate for a UMass president.

"It's an issue that relates to leadership, " Romney said.

The governor's persistence on the Bulger issue suggests his administration will continue to aggressively pursue its agenda, despite recent legislative setbacks. Thursday, the Senate defeated the governor's comprehensive proposal to remake the state's executive branch, as well as the UMass president's office.

In another battlefront with the Legislature, Romney is refusing to sign a measure sought by House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran and Senate President Robert E. Travaglini that would give them virtually unfettered power to set "leadership pay" of their lieutenants. Romney said Friday he will not sign away the governor's authority to review such matters, but that he may be willing to endorse a narrower measure that increases the pay of a set number of House and Senate members.

Romney said he is anxiously awaiting the outcome of House-Senate budget negotiations to see how many of his reforms are adopted by the Legislature. After that, he said, he would use other means to advance his reform agenda.

"While we hit a very big pothole on the road to reform, we're still on the same road; we're still going forward," Romney said.

Contributing: Jenna Russell.