Mount Ida President Defends Himself

July 10, 2018

Mount Ida College’s former president defended his record leading up to the institution’s controversial closure, but some of his statements were contradicted by his Board of Trustees and questioned by another college leader Mount Ida left at the merger altar.

In his first public interview on Mount Ida’s shutdown, former president Barry Brown told The Boston Globe that Mount Ida did everything possible to remain open before making the best decision available. Mount Ida leaders have been under intense scrutiny since they walked away from talks to merge with nearby Lasell College as a financial crisis bore down upon them. They instead opted to close Mount Ida and sell its campus to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a series of decisions that has been harshly criticized in the Boston area and across Massachusetts.

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Brown said Lasell changed the terms of a proposed merger after learning that Lasell's lenders would not approve the deal. Mount Ida trustees felt the newly proposed terms would have ceded too much control to Lasell, and there “was not the sense of a culture of equals” that had been discussed, Brown told the Globe.

The deal was also different from previous discussions financially and in protection that would have been afforded for Mount Ida students and staff members, according to Brown’s account. It left questions about whether Lasell would have enough resources to run Mount Ida. Brown declined to go into specifics, citing a confidentiality agreement.

But Mount Ida’s trustees sent a statement denying that the deal fell apart because of control, the Globe reported. The statement said trustees rejected Lasell’s last offer because they feared the college was an unreliable partner that could abandon the talks.

The trustees’ statement comes after Mount Ida’s board chair, Carmin Reiss, testified before a state Senate committee in May that the Mount Ida Board of Trustees would have been disbanded under Lasell’s revamped proposal. Mount Ida would have had to take on more debt, and its board did not believe Lasell would be able to fund Mount Ida’s losses, she said at the time.

Lasell’s president, Michael Alexander, confirmed to the Globe that his college’s lenders wouldn’t approve the merger because of Mount Ida’s debt. So Lasell restructured the deal in a way that bondholders would not have had to approve it, he said. The restructured deal could have been approved quickly before Mount Ida ran out of money but would have given Lasell more control over Mount Ida.

Alexander disagreed that Lasell was the unreliable party in the talks, pointing out that it was Mount Ida that cut off merger discussions.

Brown also answered questions on his relationship with a wealthy Mount Ida donor he has advised on real estate and finances for decades. The family of Rosalie Stahl loaned $23 million to Mount Ida in its last years -- and decided to forgive almost half of what it was owed when the college closed. The family also donated $8 million to the college in recent years.

The relationship between Brown and the donor raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest.

Brown told the Globe he had been a good trustee of Stahl’s money by making loans to Mount Ida. The transaction took place properly, “with outside representation,” he said.

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