Some Big Shoes to Fill
Javier Reyes, the incoming chancellor of UMass Amherst, was introduced to the local media — and took a few questions — at a session on the campus earlier this month.
On subjects ranging from the Blarney Blowout to his management style; from why he pursued this particular job to his thoughts on the relative worth of college rankings today, he said … well, mostly what you would expect.
That was especially true when he was asked by BusinessWest what it would be like to follow in the very large footsteps of Kumble Subbaswamy, who has served as chancellor for the past 11 years and is credited with taking the university to a higher plane when it comes to everything from prestige (and those rankings; the school is now 26th among American public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report) to research dollars.
So much so that UMass President Marty Meehan opined at the same media session that the UMass chancellor’s job is now far more attractive than it was years ago, one able to draw the top candidates.
That includes Reyes, who has most recently served as interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago. He told those assembled that, when it comes to following Subbaswamy, he understands there is perhaps more pressure than if this was a turnaround assignment, as many schools are providing these days, but he welcomes that pressure.
“You’re not coming in to repair something, but to build on the shoulders of giants — and that is a very attractive opportunity,” he said of his decision to come to UMass Amherst and work to keep the school on its current pace and angle of ascent. “You’re not trying to catch up; you’re really trying to move and set the direction and be a forward leader … It comes with more pressure, but it’s more exciting.”
‘Exciting’ would be just one of the words we could use to describe this assignment. ‘Daunting’ also comes to mind. That’s because, while it isn’t easy to put a major university on a higher trajectory, it is certainly more difficult to maintain such a course.
To do that requires real leadership and both a desire to continually set the bar higher and the will to clear that higher bar.
We hope that Reyes, the university’s first Hispanic chancellor, can meet this stern challenge because, as we’ve said on many, many occasions, UMass Amherst is an extremely important economic engine for this region and a source of innovation and entrepreneurial energy. Meanwhile, its graduates — at least those that we can keep in this market — are a key ingredient in the success formula of businesses all across the 413, and across the state as well.
Using every measuring stick but the football team (a sore subject to be sure), UMass took critical steps forward during Subbaswamy’s tenure in terms of new building and expansion of the campus; enrollment; research dollars; diversity, equity, and inclusion; rankings for the university and specific schools, such as the Isenberg School of Business; and the institution’s ability to attract top talent, meaning students, faculty, and staff.
Swamy, as most everyone called him, has taken the university to a place it hadn’t been before. It will be Reyes’ assignment to not merely maintain the status quo, but take it further still.
He sounds like he’s up for a challenge, and that’s good, because this will be one.