BOSTON - University of Massachusetts President William M. Bulger resigned yesterday, under pressure for failing to aid in a federal investigation of his mobster brother.
After insisting for months that he would not yield to demands that he give up the $356,000-a-year post he has held since 1997, Bulger tendered his resignation at a routine meeting of the university's board of trustees at the Lowell campus.
Although all but one had backed Bulger, 69, in a bitter showdown with Gov. Mitt Romney, the trustees voted "with regret" to accept Bulger's decision, offering him a standing ovation and a severance package of just under $1 million.
Lashing out yesterday at his political opponents, Bulger said, "The university has become the target of what I think must fairly be described as a calculated political assault.
"I hope that the step I take today will be helpful in our effort to provide a measure of protection for the university."
For nearly 40 years, William Bulger has used his wit, charm and razor-sharp intelligence to stay aloof from the criminal exploits of his beloved older brother.
But he met his most formidable adversary in the person of Romney, a Republican who hailed not from the machine of Massachusetts politics, but from the business community. Romney made the removal of William Bulger one of his top priorities upon taking office.
Bulger, a Democrat who for 17 years served as president of the state Senate, saw his status as one of the state's most powerful political figures start to crumble when he was forced to testify on Capitol Hill in June about the whereabouts of James "Whitey" Bulger, a former Boston mob lord and FBI informant who has been missing since 1995.
Whitey Bulger, 74, secured a spot on the FBI's "10 Most Wanted" list when he disappeared shortly before his indictment on federal charges linking him to 21 murders
Testifying under a grant of immunity, William Bulger said he learned about his brother's criminal activities only through newspaper accounts. Although he admitted speaking with his brother once by telephone after he disappeared, the university president said he had no idea where his brother was.
He also said he thought his brother's misdeeds were limited to running a gambling operation. For 30 years, Whitey Bulger was widely feared as one of Boston's most notorious criminals.
William Bulger's refusal over many years to advance the federal investigation of his brother infuriated Romney, who launched an effort to eliminate Bulger's position soon after taking office in November. The move failed, but Romney continued to call for Bulger's ouster on grounds that he was morally unfit to run the state's five-campus university system.
Romney also expressed outrage over what he characterized as evasiveness on Bulger's part when he testified before a congressional committee investigating the FBI's use of mob informants.
Yesterday, Romney called Bulger's resignation "a positive development - positive for the students, positive for the university. I think we can go forward now without the shadow of controversy over the university."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.