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Chancellor Subbaswamy's Speech


Kumble R. Subbaswamy

Faculty Convocation

September 14, 2012, 11 a.m.

Bowker Auditorium

Good morning and welcome to the beginning of another new academic year! Over the last several weeks, I have met with many of you but for just as many, this is our first meeting. Thank you for being so welcoming to me and to my wife Mala. Although there are well over a thousand of you, I hope that over time I will get to have a conversation with each one of you. You are the innovators and creators at our university and you are the sources of inspiration for our students. Your passion, expertise, and innovations are the fire at the core of UMass.

Faculty perspectives are critical to the university’s success.  You have an awareness of on-the-ground reality that is the day-to-day lived experience of interaction with students, of creative activities in laboratories, libraries, studios and the field, which is the true greatness of UMass Amherst. I will be calling upon you to help create a blueprint for our way forward-- the manifest for our strategic planning.

Our planning has to begin with a vision, one that is true to the tenets of our founding, and one that resonates with our multiple audiences. We are a great public research university. Our excellence emanates from the Morrill Act which is our founding covenant: our excellence is determined by our innovations in service to the public good. It is derived from our cooperation across departments and schools in the form of integrative and interdisciplinary work, and the impact we have on society by creating pathways to jobs for our graduates and through translational research, social commentary or policy analysis that makes a difference in the lives of our fellow citizens, and by contributing to the web of knowledge all over the globe.

Our university is thriving at a time when many institutions across the country are struggling. We are thriving not only because of the astute management of our resources—which I credit to a combination of Yankee frugality and ingenuity!—but because we inspire people’s confidence. We inspire foundations, and corporations, and individual private donors to invest not just in our potential, but in the excellence that they already see. The Commonwealth believes in us and our alumni believe in us and here are a few reasons why:

The students who arrived on campus in these past few weeks have the highest SAT scores and the highest GPAs ever in our history. More of them qualified for the Commonwealth Honors College—a gem that no other public college or university in New England has anything like—than ever before. The best and the brightest students are coming to us, because they are attracted by the quality of our education and what we can empower them to do.

We are also attracting the best and the brightest faculty because of our quality and reputation. Like Eleni Christofa in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a research interest in intelligent and sustainable transportation management systems-- fields so vital to the future of the Commonwealth. Sonya Atalay in Anthropology and the Commonwealth Honors College, who will contribute to our program in Native American Studies while enriching the curriculum. Jun Yan in Physics, a researcher in graphene and nanofabrication who will contribute to innovation and technology development in the Commonwealth. Bruce Weinberg in Marketing, who is an expert on the experience of online consumers ….

But these are just a few names. Would all of our new faculty members please stand up? I welcome you as new colleagues and look forward to the blossoming of your careers here.  The future of UMass Amherst is secure in your hands.

Signs of our greatness are everywhere: we have the preeminent doctoral program in linguistics in the country. The Isenberg online MBA program is ranked tenth in the nation for quality, affordability, and marketability. We have the sixth ranked hospitality program in the nation. We are in the top ten schools for internships. We are third in the nation for Gilman scholars—which speaks to our commitment to the success of students coming from underprivileged backgrounds.

This is the reason we are succeeding, thriving, and flourishing: we are dedicated to innovation in all we do, to integrative approaches to education and research, and to having a positive impact on the Commonwealth and beyond.  People can see it: through the Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, which is a rapid communication system among radars to improve public safety; through our alternative-energy research; through our Center for Research on Families; in our W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies; through the innovative ideas of our students, whose permaculture garden earned them a recognition as Champions of Change from the White House; through the agricultural advances at our cranberry station; through our fisheries research in Gloucester; through our gold rating and a top 10 ranking from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

While celebrating 150 years of serving the public in exemplary fashion, we recognize that we face multiple challenges—like society at large, and like other great universities across our landscape.  We face economic, demographic, and technology imperatives. With the country's economy still reeling from the recent recession, state appropriations for higher education have continued to decline or failed to keep pace with cost increases, resulting in significant increase in tuition and fees. Universities are under increasing pressure to control costs and be more accountable. At the same time, innovative educational “business”models such as free Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are calling into question the value of the more expensive residential immersive model, particularly on a research campus.  More minorities and first-generation college students are entering the academy than ever before.  Continuing education is becoming essential in today’s job market.

In this climate we must continuously deepen and demonstrate the value of what we do in a public research university—through innovations in pedagogy and the use of technology, in controlling costs, and in enhancing the value of our research to the public good.

So our challenge, not only for the survival of the public research university, but also for the continued welfare of our society, requires rallying public support for our institution. We must continue to make sure the public believes in what we do and we must continue to inspire their confidence.

As we engage in our strategic planning process, we need to refine, reassert, and reinforce our value as a university in the public interest and rededicate ourselves to the public good.  We can no longer take for granted that our value is self-evident to students, families, funding agencies, employers, or donors or political leaders. We must change the image of being self-absorbed.  A four-year graduation rate of 50% does not instill confidence, especially considering the annual price tag.  We can and will do better!

Given our past record, and given our individual and collective creativity, I am confident we will succeed in regaining the confidence of our various publics.

With your help, we will continue as a force for innovative education: through team-based learning and other approaches honed at the Center for Teaching & Faculty Development, and through models like iCons: multidisciplinary curricula which connect scientific expertise across disciplines; the Integrative Experience requirement which assists upper-division students apply their knowledge; and through novel approaches to working with industry such as the UMass Innovation Institute.

Through innovation, through integrative approaches, and through astute stewardship of our resources, we will not only increase the impact of our educational, research and creative endeavors on the Commonwealth and beyond. 

 Just continue doing what you love to do, and be inspired by your capacity to help people. And this university will make sure you are able to do just that. I promise that I will be your tireless advocate and ambassador. 

This is going to be a Big Year On Campus. We will be initiating our Sesquicentennial celebration, and launching the Capital Campaign that will help draw vital support for the work we do. UMass awareness is going to be very high! Please draw inspiration from that. Be proud of your school. Try not to wash our dirty laundry in public!

So we have much to celebrate. Our beautiful campus is growing and transforming. Our students are the best they have ever been. We continue to innovate, integrate, and make an impact in the world in ever more inspiring and empowering ways!

I am very excited to see your ideas as teachers and scholars take shape. When you see me on campus, share your ideas with me. UMass Amherst is our shared project. I look forward to experiencing this new year with you!

Go, UMass!