UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to retire in 2023

  • KUMBLE SUBBASWAMY

  • UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy at the annual UMass Community Breakfast in 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/2/2022 12:25:12 PM

AMHERST — Nearly a decade after he arrived on campus, University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy has announced that he is retiring next year.

In a statement Thursday, the university said that Subbaswamy will step down from his position at the end of June 2023. The school’s board of trustees has named Springfield businessman and board member Victor Woolridge, a former board chair and alumnus of the university, to lead a search committee to identify candidates for the next UMass Amherst chancellor.

In an email to campus Thursday, Subbaswamy — affectionately known to many as simply “Swamy” — said that it has been a privilege to serve in the role during the past decade. He said that when he arrived in July 2012, he was thrilled to lead an institution with “all the indicators of a top-tier public research university” and with a faculty, student and staff body committed to excellence.

“For the past ten years, we have worked together, building on that excellence. And, we have achieved success in all key areas, from attracting growing numbers of diverse, high-achieving students to steadily improving graduation rates to conducting cutting-edge research with real-world impact,” he said. “By channeling our revolutionary spirit, we have become one of the fastest rising top-tier public research universities in the country.”

In a phone interview Thursday, Subbaswamy said that after spending so long at any institution, it’s difficult to withdraw from. But at age 71, he said he’s ready. He said that life is in a way “back to normal” on campus with the school fully operational after difficult years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve learned to deal with the pandemic and live with the pandemic, so it feels like a good time,” he said.

In its retirement announcement, the university highlighted some of Subbaswamy’s achievements: boosting undergraduate applications and the six-year graduation rate; increasing student diversity, from 21% students of color a decade ago to 37% this past year; $213 million in research expenditures in FY21, ranking first among public universities in New England when it comes to receiving National Science Foundation grants; large philanthropic giving to the university; and educating a generation of students in the state and beyond.

Subbaswamy said that there are many ways to measure quality, both in terms of reality and how the school is perceived. He said he’s proud to have presided over a period when UMass Amherst rose from 52nd place to 26th in U.S. News & World Report’s list of best public universities.

A trained physicist, Subbaswamy was on the faculty at the University of Kentucky, where he served in various administrative roles before eventually becoming provost in 2006. He has also served in administrative positions at the University of Miami and Indiana University Bloomington.

Subbaswamy arrived at the college amid a period of instability, when a series of chancellors had departed in quick succession.

At the university’s yearly community breakfast that year, then-state senator Stanley Rosenberg said he was looking forward to a period of stability in the chancellor’s office. The following year, Subbaswamy “repeatedly said he was at his second of 10 community breakfasts, a response to a promise he made to Rosenberg to remain at the helm of the flagship campus for at least a decade,” the Gazette reported at the time.

Subbaswamy kept that promise, though because COVID-19 caused the 2020 breakfast to be canceled, he’ll only have attended nine.

During his initial period on campus, Subbaswamy said much of his time “was spent on rebuilding relationships for the university with the system office, with the Legislature, with western Massachusetts leadership and, on campus, with students, faculty and labor unions and so on.”

In addition to the pandemic, UMass Amherst has continued to deal with racist incidents across campus at a time when the university becomes more diverse and student push for racial justice on and off campus.

Subbaswamy said that it isn’t possible to completely eliminate “nasty hate incidents” in an age when people can hide behind anonymity online and “use technology to create this kind of havoc.” What’s important, he said, is whether the overall experience has improved for students of color. When that’s not the case, those incidents “loom large” on campus.

“They loom large because we still aren’t delivering the promise of a welcoming, supportive, inclusive campus that we all aim for,” he said, adding that the school is constantly working on ways to ensure that “the support structure and social fabric of the campus is more welcoming and more inclusive.”

Asked what he’ll miss most about being on campus, Subbaswamy said his good relationship with students and the stimulating academic environment. He said he doesn’t yet have firm plans for retirement, but hopes to read, write and travel more, and to continue his interest in public policy issues.

Subbaswamy said that it’s important to remember that UMass Amherst is a plan-driven school where many decisions are collectively developed, ensuring continuity regardless of one person’s departure.

“This is not one person’s vision,” Subbaswamy said. “We’re all committed to this.”

Subbaswamy made $481,133 in base pay in 2021 in addition to $112,934 in other compensation, according to state payroll data. So far this year, he has made $217,504 in base pay. 

Scott Merzbach contributed reporting to this story.
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