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Subbaswamy: he’s just like us

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

In the spring of my senior year of high school, I came to the University of Massachusetts for a campus tour. The first thing that stood out to me was the number of students who wore t-shirts with Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy’s face plastered to them. At the time, I had no idea who this man was, but I did quickly pick up on the student body’s fondness for him. Why else would they proudly walk around with a cut-out of his face on their chest?

Upon arriving as a freshman in the fall, it became very apparent that the man on these student’s shirts was not random; he was the Chancellor of the University. On the surface, the students adored him not only because his nickname, “Swamy,” was catchy, but because he would stop around campus to take selfies with students. What bothered me was that no one actually spoke about what he advocated or stood for. I didn’t hear about what type of leader he was or how he actively worked with the student body, and I was left with a substantial amount of skepticism toward the legitimacy of his leadership.

This past week, I was lucky enough to receive the opportunity to meet and share a conversation with Chancellor Subbaswamy through my freshmen seminar studying Black leadership. Professor Amilcar Shabazz, my classmates and I gathered around the boardroom in Whitmore Administration building, which is also where the Chancellor hosts meetings with his cabinet. We began by watching the first few minutes of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s commencement speech at last year’s graduation. From the start, the Chancellor’s easy-going persona and intrapersonal skills became very clear. His demeanor was easily reflected in his willingness to listen to each individual’s background and issues they faced this past semester. But in addition to his attention to our words, he was responsive and witty when it came to lighter topics.

Preceding his role as an academic administrator, Subbaswamy received his Bachelor of Science from Bangalore University, a master’s in physics from Delhi University and a Ph.D. in physics from Indiana University. When asked why he felt drawn away from a quantitative disciplinary field into a leadership position, Subbaswamy explained that although he enjoyed science, he was not going to be the next Albert Einstein. He continued to explain that, if anything, his background taught him to find the causality of problems, whereas, as Chancellor, he faces many divisive issues that are not a direct result of one cause. He also spent time telling us stories of individuals that he was not able to edit policy for. It was in his words and demeanor that his ability to empathize for the student body was clearly evident. The time we spent around the table in Whitmore only shed more light on his willingness to engage with students.

Before Subbaswamy was hired in 2012, UMass had seen a rotating door of four chancellors over the past 11 years. Following his acceptance of the position, Subbaswamy stated, “I look forward to the challenges ahead, knowing full well that the campus is strongly committed to fulfilling its promise and mission as the Commonwealth’s public university flagship…Given the warm reception I received during my recent campus visit, I am eager to move forward on this new journey. In many ways, UMass Amherst already feels like home.”

In the end, I truly do believe our university is led by a charismatic, incredibly intelligent scholar. As seen through  the Chancellor’s witty banter and meaningful anecdotes regarding his time spent on campus, it is clear that he is a remarkable and dedicated leader. If given the opportunity, I truly urge you to engage with him regarding the state and well-being of our university.

Morgan Reppert is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at morganrepper@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Subbaswamy: he’s just like us”
  1. Ed Cutting, Ed.D. says:

    Yes, but he’s in charge of a university that is being sued for violating student civil rights.

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