The president’s distinguished record was the reason for keeping him.

BOSTON (AP) – University of Massachusetts President William Bulger won “overwhelming” support Thursday from the Board of Trustees, who said his accomplishments at the school’s helm were more significant than the spectacle of his highly publicized testimony before a congressional committee about his fugitive mobster brother.

Emerging from a six-hour meeting held to discuss Bulger’s future as president, board chairwoman Grace Fey said Bulger had not broken any laws and cited Bulger’s distinguished record as the university’s president as the reason board members chose to keep him on.

“In fact the evidence is that the quality of our students, our fund-raising, and research funding have all increased dramatically in recent years,” Fey said. “It is the consensus of the board, although not unanimous, that President Bulger has the authority to lead this institution going forward.”

The board did not take a formal vote and trustees declined to publicly say how many had dissented from the concensus decision. Only one of the 15 board members present, Trustee F. Lawrence Boyle, is known to have opposed the former Senate president’s service as university president.

“I deeply appreciate the board’s expression of support and am grateful to all who judge me on my own merits,” Bulger said in a statement. “I will strive to be deserving of such support.”

Bulger – a former Democratic state Senate president who has long been a powerful force in state politics – testified with immunity last week before the House Government Reform Committee.

He said he has no idea of the whereabouts of his brother – James “Whitey” Bulger, a former FBI informant wanted in connection with 21 murders – and said there is little he could have done to steer him from a life of crime.

He also said he believes the FBI wanted his brother dead and that federal investigators leaked the fact that his brother had been an informant to the media.

Bulger’s critics, including Gov. Mitt Romney and state Attorney General Tom Reilly, said his testimony was evasive and questioned how he could be so ignorant to his brother’s criminal activities.

Romney said Thursday he was “disappointed” with the board’s decision not to oust Bulger and said he will begin replacing board members, one by one, until his appointees have a majority – not until 2006.

“It’s totally inappropriate to consider a criminal standard when one looks at the president of a university,” Romney said. “I personally have a much higher standard than (what) was described by the chairman of the board of the University of Massachusetts.”

Romney and Reilly have each called for Bulger’s resignation, saying the national spectacle of the university president testifying about the mob before Congress has brought down embarrassment on the institution, its students and alumni.

Bulger’s brother is on the FBI’s “10 Most Wanted” list. The UMass president has acknowledged talking to him once since he went on the lam in 1995, just before federal indictments were handed down.

Joining his critics this week was UMass trustee F. Lawrence Boyle, the first to publicly break allegiance to Bulger.

“My concern is the reputation of the school,” Boyle said Thursday. “With respect to performance, I think it’s the greater issue … the long-term health and prosperity of the school.”

Bulger’s contract states that trustees can fire him before his contract expires in 2007 only for “just cause” or for breaking a state, federal or university rule “where such misconduct clearly results in damage to the university.”

Bulger’s supporters point to his record of accomplishment as leader of the state’s flagship institution of higher education. In terms of private fund-raising, research funding, and enrollment, they argue, the numbers show that Bulger has helped propelled the university to new heights.

According to information provided by Bulger’s office, private fund-raising has risen from $36 million in 1996, when Bulger took over the post, to $95 million last year. Over the same period of time, the endowment has risen from $37 million to $142 million.

Even Romney has acknowledged Bulger’s accomplishments, but argues that his handling of the controversy surrounding his brother has overshadowed this record.

Romney has been at odds with Bulger since he took office in January and vowed to eliminate the post of UMass president. Reilly, who was supported by the South Boston Democrat in his first run for office, joined the fight earlier this month, becoming the first Democrat to call for his resignation.

AP-ES-06-26-03 1710EDT

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