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Political Shake Up

Political Shake UpThe resignation of UMass President William Bulger appears to be a major political victory for Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, says a Tufts expert. Boston.

Boston [08.07.03] Ending a political feud with Massachusetts' Governor that spanned nearly a year, University of Massachusetts President William Bulger announced his plans to step down from his post atop the state's public university system. The decision, which came as a surprise to many, was viewed by Tufts political science expert Jeffrey Berry as a major victory for Governor Mitt Romney, who pledged to lead a political shake up in the state.

"This is an unequivocal victory for the governor," Berry, a political science professor at Tufts, said in an interview with The Boston Globe.

Bulger - a Democrat and former Massachusetts State Senate president - came under fire over questions about his relationship with his brother, James Bulger - one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives.

"Pressure had mounted against Bulger from a variety of political quarters," reported the Associated Press. "Romney, who will get to appoint three new trustees next month, had urged Bulger to resign as did Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, the state's highest-elected Democrat. Both said the controversy about Bulger's relationship with his brother had distracted the school from its educational mission."

Bulger - who is widely credited with invigorating the UMass system through intensive fundraising efforts, increases to research funding of more than $100 million and savvy marketing campaigns to attract new students - also battled with Romney over the future of the state's public higher education system.

"Last year, Romney campaigned as a crusading outsider seeking to ‘shake up' the State House," reported the Globe. "Within weeks of taking office, he targeted Bulger's office for elimination. Bulger, the onetime Senate president, and Democratic legislative leaders handily defeated the plan to reorganize the university system."

Some experts said Romney's moves were designed to send a political message about his plans for shaking up the state's political establishment.

"What Romney wanted to do was not reform UMass, but remind voters that the Democratic Party is the old way and corrupt way," Berry told the Globe.

The tug of war between the two continued for months, Berry told Reuters, noting that the feud increasingly took its toll on the cash-strapped university.

"There was no way he could be an effective leader of the university from here on out," the Tufts professor said in an interview with the international news service. "In terms of the university budget, which has been significantly cut, it was vital he step down."

The question was: When to resign?

In June, Bulger testified before Congress about his relationship with his brother and his knowledge of his whereabouts. Just days later, UMass' trustees met and strongly endorsed Bulger as president. But it appears that there were additional behind-the-scenes discussions in the weeks that followed.

"It seems as though the trustees told him at that time that he could stay on for a decent interval to save face," Berry told the Washington Post.

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