Evan Dobelle, who resigned amid controversy several years ago as president of the University of Hawaii, and Richard Freeland, a former president of Northeastern University, are among the top possibilities for interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, according to sources connected with the university.
University officials are searching for a successor to chancellor John V. Lombardi, who was named president of Louisiana State University July 13 and is slated to begin Sept. 1. UMass leaders hope to name someone in the next two weeks to run the university while a search committee hunts for a permanent head of the flagship campus.
Two sources familiar with the search asked to remain anonymous to protect the secrecy of the process and the candidates' privacy.
Freeland could not be reached for comment yesterday, and it is unclear whether he would accept the position.
Dobelle, president of the New England Board of Higher Education, said he had not been formally approached about the job but would consider an offer.
"I would have to understand what they want and for what duration," he said, adding that he would not want to be a candidate for the permanent chancellorship. A Pittsfield resident and UMass-Amherst graduate, he expressed loyalty to the school and said he was not deterred by recent controversy over restructuring of the university system .
"I've never gone to a college that didn't have trouble," he said.
The system's president, Jack Wilson, and the faculty are searching for a chancellor who will stabilize the campus, where faculty members spoke out this spring after Wilson announced a plan to change the structure of the university leadership .
Under Wilson's plan, Lombardi, who opposed plans to consolidate aspects of the university system, was to stay on as chancellor until the end of the next school year. Angry over Lombardi's impending departure and about not being consulted on the restructuring, Amherst faculty overwhelmingly passed a no- confidence vote against Wilson in May.
Freeland, who retired last year as Northeastern's president, served as dean at UMass-Boston from 1982 to 1992. Wilson appointed Freeland to head a proposed task force to explore UMass governance following the restructuring controversy, but the group was scrapped under pressure from faculty and legislators. The university then agreed to let Governor Deval Patrick's education committee do the review.
Faculty members said they viewed Freeland as a potential peacemaker on campus in the mold of Derek Bok. Bok, a longtime president of Harvard University, served as interim president there the year after Lawrence Summers resigned.
The idea that Dobelle might be named, however, prompted questions among some faculty leaders and trustees. In 2004, he was ousted as president of the University of Hawaii after a turbulent three-year tenure. The Board of Regents criticized his spending on travel and entertainment and said he lacked accountability.
Dobelle, 62, initially was fired but ultimately was allowed to resign and reached a settlement to receive more than $1 million from the university board.
"Certainly the faculty would not be looking forward to another period of great controversy," said Ernest May, secretary of the UMass-Amherst Faculty Senate. "The circumstances of his departure at Hawaii do raise some concerns."
Dobelle denied any wrongdoing and said he was forced out for political reasons.
Since 2004, Dobelle has been president of the New England Board of Higher Education, a nonprofit based in Boston that works with colleges and universities in six states. He had previously served as president of Trinity College in Hartford, where he won acclaim for improving relationships with the community and helping to rehabilitate neighborhoods around campus.
The strained relationship between Wilson and the faculty complicates the search for a new chancellor, observers said.
"That all suggests someone beyond the system," said Max Page, president of the UMass- Amherst faculty union. "The campus was fractured over Lombardi, and many of the likely candidates are Lombardi loyalists. If you just transfer someone from the president's office, they are totally beholden. An outsider has independence."
Page and other faculty leaders said they met with Wilson recently about the chancellor search and agreed that candidates should have experience as the head of a major research university and should be willing to serve only as an interim leader .
Wilson has not mentioned specific candidates in the meetings, and sources said other candidates remain under consideration.