Tuesday, March 28, 2023

As Transformative Chancellor Leaves, UMass Amherst Takes Stock of Its New Reputation – The Boston Globe

But times are changing. “I haven’t heard that in a long time,” Peterson said.

Indeed, speed seems to be the word on everyone’s lips at UMass Amherst.

The school has jumped from 52nd in 2010 to 26th this year in the prestigious U.S. News and World Report rankings of public universities, while school applications have increased by 30 percent over the past decade — even among the state’s high schools. The number of school graduates has also increased. steady

“The minimum goal is to continue our trajectory, and even that is going to be a challenge,” Pietersen said. “Since a lot of places are trying hard to come up, we have to run fast to stay in our place.”

Now, as University Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, who many credit for the university’s transformation, members of the UMass Amherst community are reflecting on the university’s rise, What happens next, and whether it can balance its nascent elite status with its egalitarian mission.

Subbaswamy, 71, announced earlier this month that he would retire at the end of June 2023. He had planned from the start to stay for about a decade, he said, and leading the university through the pandemic was grueling.

“It’s a great time to hand it over to someone new with new eyes and new energy,” he said in a telephone interview on Friday.

As the university’s top leadership changes, many at UMass Amherst want to continue the upward trajectory started by Subbaswamy.

UMass Systems President Marty Meehan said in a telephone interview last week, using the Chancellor’s nickname, “Whatever measure you use, Swami’s leadership has been exceptional.” “It’s really important that students have the opportunity to attend a premier campus that’s as good as any in the country, and that’s what we have right now.”

Before Subbaswamy became the Chancellor, UMass Amherst had lived through four leaders over a decade.

Several professors said that Subbaswamy, a physicist born in Bangalore, India, who previously served as provost at the University of Kentucky, did not make major changes immediately upon his arrival in 2012. Instead, he listened to and felt the place over the course of about a year.

“There wasn’t much change for the sake of change,” said Anthony Pike, a sociology professor and Faculty Senate Secretary.

As Subbaswamy’s vision for the campus emerged, it was ambitious. Pike said the new chancellor wants to put UMass Amherst among the top 20 public universities in the country.

To do this, Subbaswamy took aim at the graduation rate of the campus.

In 2011, about 78 percent of university students graduated in six years. The figure was not unusual for large public institutions at the time, but it was well behind the elite public schools, which the chancellor hoped to one day rival.

UMass Amherst specifically focused on providing graduate mentoring for first generation undergraduates; abolished the “indeterminate” major category for undergraduates, instead placing them on exploratory track within university colleges; and implemented a system for professors, advisors and deans to share notes on students so that less slips through the cracks, Many professors said.

It seems to have worked. Now 84 per cent students have graduated in six years. The four-year graduation rate has increased from about 67 percent in 2011 to 77 percent today.

Subbaswamy also revamped the university’s Honors College, established a school of computer science, and was A prolific fundraiser.

The increased prestige of the university has helped attract star faculty, prevent large research grants and increase the job prospects of graduates.

“If you’re graduating with a UMass degree, it’s a little more than a few years ago,” said Tasnim Kelly, a rising senior in West Springfield studying information management, when it was referred to as a party school. Was known.” political Science.

The origin of the university is as much a survival strategy as it is to promote prestige.

Higher education in New England is staring at what has been called a “demographic rock”—the falling number of high school graduates. Small liberal arts colleges are the first to feel the pressure, but large public schools are also a concern.

“The competition is going to be intense for students, and students are more likely to attend a university with a national reputation,” Meehan said.

Increasing a university’s reputation can be a costly proposition, according to John Stevens, a New Hampshire-based higher education consultant and UMass Amherst alumnus. invested in a range of resources, From new buildings to more student advisors, spend the money. As tuition increases at public universities, they lose some of their price advantage and must compete with private institutions, often spending more on facilities and education, Stevens said.

In fact, tuition and fees increased an inflation-adjusted $6,500 per student in the UMass system between the 2001 and 2020 fiscal years, while state higher education funding per student dropped $2,500 over the same period, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center reported. had got.

“Since it can no longer rely on the state, it has to make private-sector decisions, and in some ways that change the character of the university,” said Timmy Sullivan, director of the Public Education Network of Massachusetts.

Growth in enrollment, more high-paying, out-of-state students recruiting, an emphasis on fundraising, and higher debt loads for students are all results, said Sullivan, who has nearly half in debt from his years, said Sullivan. $33,000 left. UMass Amherst degree.

When Whitney Battle-Baptiste, an archaeologist and director of the WEB du Bois Center, arrived at UMass Amherst 16 years ago, it was less prestigious, but it was a place. with an underdog, sometimes Radical attitude, she said.

“The culture has changed a bit, because the truth is that we need to raise money. We need some leverage to maintain our campus resources,” she said.

Meehan acknowledged that affordability is a challenge, but said the UMass system is aggressively fundraising for scholarships and that financial aid has increased by about 50 percent during his term as president.

However, there need not be tension between UMass Amherst’s pursuit of prestige and its role in promoting social mobility, said State Representative Natalie Higgins, a Leominster Democrat and UMass alumna.

“I think those two things can happen at the same time,” Higgins said. He said that for this more money is needed from the State Legislature.

Subbaswamy said he has tried to strike the right balance, but it will remain something that his successor should know.

“We all worry about access as a form of excellence,” Subbaswamy said, noting that the number of black students and other students of color on campus has increased significantly during her tenure. He said the next chancellor would have to focus on race and equality while building a good relationship with Beacon Hill.

UMass officials said they plan to name a chancellor search commission this summer and hold hearing sessions with students, faculty and staff before scouting candidates.

One thing everyone agrees is that the next chancellor will need one trait that Subbaswamy has in abundance: the ability to listen.

UMass Amherst faces thorny questions about coercive acts of racism, the feelings of many black students who they are not, sexual harassment in the fraternity, and the retention of faculty members of color. Subbaswamy launched several initiatives such as a Black Advisory Council to work on those issues and organized town halls on difficult issues, where he did not shy away from students’ questions.

Subbaswamy said this is because maintaining good relations with every community on campus shows the Chancellor’s ability to do more.

His approach and his advice to the next chancellor is simple.

“People appreciate honesty,” he said.

Alexander Thompson can be reached at [email protected]

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