Northern Essex Community College President Lane A. Glenn fell just short Tuesday of becoming the state’s next higher education commissioner.
Glenn, who was named one of four finalists, told college staff Tuesday morning by email an initial ballot narrowed the field to him and former Pennsylvania Education Secretary Noe Ortega.
“I look forward to welcoming him to Massachusetts, and to working with him to ensure our students and colleges thrive,” Glenn said in the email. He called Ortega “an impressive leader.”
Eight board members—Ann Christensen, Veronica Conforme, Alex Cortez, Patty Eppinger, Paul Mattera, Judy Pagliuca, Education Secretary Jim Peyser and Chris Gabrieli—voted for Ortega, one short of the nine-vote threshold required. Four others—Mary Burns, Travis Lawrence, Paul Toner and Bill Walczak—backed Glenn.
Burns, who represents UMass trustees on the board, prefaced her support for Glenn by describing herself as “a firm believer of promoting from within.” After the votes were tallied, Toner moved for the board to make its selection of Ortega unanimous, and all members agreed.
“I want to say I do feel that President Glenn has done a wonderful job in his service to the state of Massachusetts and to the community colleges,” Toner said. “I’m disappointed that he couldn’t get the votes he needed, but in order to move forward as a strong system, I want to make the motion for us to go forward with a unanimous vote.”
Ortega is also a former University of Michigan official and spent almost a decade working in Texas, as its pick for the top job following a five-month search that drew two dozen applicants.
Besides Glenn, Ortega beat out another in-state candidate, Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development associate dean Mary Churchill. Another out-of-state candidate is Marty Alvarado, who serves as executive vice chancellor for the office of equitable student learning, experience and impact in the California Community College Chancellor’s office.
Summarizing discussions the search team conducted with Ortega’s references, Academic Search President Jay Lemons told the board Ortega received praise as “being brilliant in policy and in operations.”
“It was noted that Noe is highly respected and that his true strength is in diplomacy, leading groups of people around a united cause,” Lemons said of the reviews Ortega received. “He’s calming in his approach, he’s above the fray and he has garnered a tremendous amount of respect in Pennsylvania as a result of his leadership during, I would note, a particularly divisive and tumultuous time.”
Peyser, a Gov. Charlie Baker appointee, is now tasked with formally confirming the next higher education commissioner. It was not immediately clear Tuesday when that will happen.
Gabrieli said choosing a successor to Commissioner Carlos Santiago was an “agonizing decision.” He called Glenn “just a great guy who has been an excellent ally on many critical things and I think would be an excellent commissioner.”
State House News Service contributed to this report.