In his first Faculty Convocation address, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy last week pledged to be a “tireless advocate and ambassador” for the campus and laid the groundwork for a strategic plan that will guide the campus forward.
Speaking at the Sept. 14 event in Bowker Auditorium, Subbaswamy praised the assembled faculty, clad in their colorful academic robes.
“You are the innovators and creators at our university and you are the sources of inspiration for our students,” said the chancellor. “Your passion, expertise and innovations are the fire at the core of UMass.”
While the campus is thriving at a time when other institutions are struggling, Subbaswamy warned of economic, demographic and technological challenges.
“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,” he said. “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 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.”
In that climate, he said, “We must continue to make sure the public believes in what we do and we must continue to inspire their confidence.”
He added, “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 percent does not inspire confidence, especially considering the annual price tag. We can and will do better.”
He credited the campus for its “astute management” of its resources through a combination of Yankee frugality and ingenuity.
He also praised the quality of the student body, noting that this year’s entering class has the highest SAT scores and grade point averages in campus history. “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,” he said.
Similarly, said Subbaswamy, UMass Amherst is attracting bright and talented new faculty. Ticking off the names and research focus of several new hires, the chancellor also asked all of the new faculty members to stand and be recognized.
Next year, he said, will usher in the campus’s 150th anniversary celebration and the launch of a capital fundraising campaign.
“So we have much to celebrate,” he said. “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.”
During the convocation, Subbaswamy presented the Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity to five faculty members: Cynthia L. Baldwin, Veterinary and Animal Sciences; Gerald A. Epstein, Economics; Shona Macdonald, Art, Architecture and Art History; Andrew McCallum, Computer Science, and Melinda A. Novak, Psychology.