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April 30, 2015

Former congressman Marty Meehan is a leading candidate to be the next president of the University of Massachusetts. (Kirk Carapezza/WGBH)

And then there were two. The University of Massachusetts is one step closer to choosing its next president, as a presidential search committee has named two finalists: UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan and Harvard business professor John Quelch.

Quelch has international chops as a former dean at a prestigious business school in China, while Meehan is a former congressman and has earned widespread praise for revitalizing UMass Lowell.

Robert Manning, who chairs the search committee, says the next president should be a visionary leader.

"Higher education is going through, just like other industries, disruption," Manning said, ticking off a series of challenges facing the UMass system. "There's online learning. The demographics of the incoming students are very different from when I went to college. The cost is rising above people's ability to pay."

Manning says finding a president who’s politically savvy is critical for the future of UMass.

"We get 20 percent of our funding from the state legislature, so that person has to be adept in coordinating and building consensus on Beacon Hill,” Manning said.

The UMass Board of Trustees will interview both Meehan and Quelch on Friday, before selecting one of them to succeed Robert Caret. Caret is stepping down to become chancellor of the University of Maryland System, and UMass wants the next president in place by July 1.

Meehan is also in the running for the presidency of Suffolk University, and some experts have suggested the search committee is fast-tracking the process to accommodate him. Secretary of Education Jim Peyser dismisses that notion.

"We got to this point, anyway, without feeling like we were missing any bets," Peyser said. "I think we ended up with the two best candidates."

umass lowell, Marty Meehan, higher ed, Umass, Massachusetts

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