Amherst councilors mull weighing in on chancellor search

  • UMass Amherst campus Massachusetts Office Of Travel & Tourism

Staff Writer
Published: 10/6/2022 10:18:02 AM

AMHERST — The next chancellor at the University of Massachusetts should be a partner with Amherst and area communities, and possibly focus on addressing the continued impacts on residential neighborhoods from student rentals, according to a draft letter the Town Council is considering sending to the search committee.

“As you review candidates, our ask is very simple — we hope you will hire a chancellor who places high value on being part of a broader community, and who places significant priority in partnering with the town of Amherst and surrounding communities,” reads the text of the letter councilors began reviewing this week.

UMass over the summer launched a search to find the successor to Kumble R. Subbaswamy, who announced that he would be stepping down after 10 years in Amherst at the conclusion of the 2022-2023 academic year.

A 21-member committee, made up of faculty, UMass alumni, staff, board of trustees members and two UMass students, is chaired by Victor Woolridge, a trustee and Springfield businessman.

While the board opted against preparing the letter to send immediately, with Council President Lynn Griesemer to get more feedback from her colleagues and revise it at a future meeting, elements embedded in the letter include the issues with the growing number of homes in town rented to students, and companies buying these as investment opportunities. An additional challenge to the town’s tax base is the fact that over one-third of the land mass is owned by higher education institutions.

The letter notes confidence in the next chancellor to support entrepreneurship initiatives that would facilitate spin-off companies, and establish their home bases in western Massachusetts.

“We need the university to work in partnership with the town to help Amherst be a community of which we all can be proud,” the draft letter states. “As with the university, the town has established racial equity and climate action as the two primary goals for our community. These are also areas that we should collaborate on.”

Griesemer said she previously offered comments at an in-person meeting in mid-September where she was joined by Council Vice President Ana Devlin Gauthier and Hadley Select Board member Molly Keegan.

At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke expressed concern about the letter demeaning students, saying she preferred to not use the term student rentals, and to excise a comment about how town neighborhoods are “proving grounds for young renters transitioning into adulthood, a position few neighbors relish.”

“That does not sit well with me at all,” Hanneke said. “It almost seems derogatory to the adulthood level of young college students, or young people in general, even if they are not in college.”

But she said she wants stronger language calling for the chancellor to be a true community partner.

“I felt what we’ve been missing is that true community partnership between the chancellor and our town,” Hanneke said.

District 1 Councilor Michele Miller said it may be a challenge to have a letter that reflects sentiments from all councilors, noting that the chancellor search is a political matter with various viewpoints.

“It gets to some pieces of how I might express myself, but it doesn’t accurately reflect my voice in this matter completely,” Miller said.

Griesemer said councilors are encouraged to send their own letters, as is anyone from the community.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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