Kumble Subbaswamy to serve as next UMass chancellor

By Chris Shores

Maria Uminski/Collegian

BOSTON – Kumble Subbaswamy – a 60-year-old physicist and provost from the University of Kentucky – has been named the next chancellor of the University of Massachusetts.

The University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously last night to appoint Subbaswamy to the chancellor post, following a recommendation of the candidate by UMass President Robert Caret. The decision marked the end of a six-month search for the next leader of UMass’ flagship campus.

“I firmly believe that the person with the experience, the vision, the intellect and the drive we need to move our flagship campus forward is Dr. Kumble Subbaswamy,” Caret told the board at last night’s meeting at the University of Massachusetts Club in Boston. “We needed someone who could strengthen relations both on and off campus … I believe he has that ability.”

Subbaswamy will assume the post from current Chancellor Robert Holub, who’s served in his role since August 2008. It was announced last summer that Holub would step down from the position – amid reports that a committee evaluating his performance had given him a negative review.

In Subbaswamy – or “Swamy” as the chancellor-elect prefers to be called – the board saw a candidate who could work with leaders across the state from Amherst to Boston. Subbaswamy spent the last six years as provost of the University of Kentucky, a land grant university that, like UMass, serves as the state’s flagship school.

“He hit a couple key points … including things like his understanding of collaboration between campuses,” said board Chairman James Karam. “I loved his discussion about how he worked with state systems and how he leveraged the state system for the benefit of the flagship campus.”

“We were really looking for a person who has been a transformative leader and who has proved themselves in another setting,” said trustee Richard Campbell. “In Swamy, you have somebody who emerged immediately as a leader among leaders.”

Meeting attendees were also impressed with Subbaswamy’s focus on research and education.

In his first three years as provost in Kentucky, first-year retention rate increased by 6 percentage points, from 76 to 82 percent, according to Subbaswamy’s curriculum vitae. Overall applications to the University increased by more than 20 percent and research awards rose under Subbaswamy’s watch to more than $330 million in FY10, according to the curriculum vitae.

“While he was ratcheting up the research enterprise, he was putting an equal amount of energy in student retention and student success,” said Caret.

“He fills all the criteria. I think he will be a great chancellor,” said Ernie May, secretary of the UMass Faculty Senate, after the meeting. “It’s a superhuman job, he seems ready and able.”

Up first on the chancellor-elect’s agenda is an effort to reach out to the different groups he’ll be in contact with during his time as chancellor.

“The first thing to do is to communicate with all the different stakeholders to make sure they all feel that their concerns are being addressed,” said Subbaswamy in an phone interview, “and to pull together a community so that … we are all going in the same direction.”

Caret said that Subbaswamy will likely visit the Amherst campus early next week. He is unsure of when the chancellor-elect will officially take over the post, but Subbaswamy is hoping to start in July – the beginning of the fiscal year.

Subbaswamy’s academic career began 34 years ago when the University of Kentucky hired him as an assistant physics professor. He moved through the ranks during the next 18 years, becoming an associate dean of arts and sciences in 1991 and a department chair of physics and astronomy two years later.

He would serve as dean of arts and sciences at two more universities – for three years at the University of Miami and then six years at Indiana University.

A native of India, Subbaswamy earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics from universities in his home country. He received a Ph.D. in physics from Indiana University in 1976. He spent the next two years at the University of California, Irvine, as a physics research associate.

And now, he’s preparing to become the next UMass chancellor, succeeding Holub, who has served as the head administrator on campus for the past four years.

“I want to congratulate Dr. Kumble Subbaswamy on his appointment as Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and welcome him to the campus community,” Holub said in a statement issued last night. “I will be doing everything I can to cooperate with Chancellor Subbaswamy and to ensure that the transition in leadership is smooth and productive.”

Through months of research and interviews, a search committee narrowed the candidate pool for the position down to four finalists, all of whom visited campus two weeks ago. Two candidates – Sona Andrews and Susan Phillips – were out of the running heading into last night’s trustees meeting.

The remaining finalist, Carlos Santiago, was informed last night of Caret’s decision, the president said.

Katie Landeck contributed to this report.

Chris Shores can be reached at [email protected]