Hall offers outsider's perspective to chancellor's job

The University of Cape Town may be half-a-world away from Amherst, but chancellor finalist Martin Hall made it clear from the start that he knows UMass fairly well.

During an April 17 visit, he told about 50 faculty gathered in Memorial Hall that his daughter graduated from UMass Amherst and that his stepdaughter is currently enrolled in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. Hall also acknowledged that the Internet has changed the dynamics of job searches.

“You don’t need me to say anything because you have Google,” said Hall, the second of four finalists for the chancellor’s post scheduled to visit campus this week and next.

Instead, Hall quickly opened the floor to questions on a variety of topics ranging from his political skills to fundraising and leadership models.

“I’ve heard a lot about the system’s relationship with the campus,” he said. “I have a sense of the issues.”

Hall said conversations with President Jack Wilson have assured him that tensions have eased since last spring when the president’s reorganization of the system’s leadership resulted in the departure of Chancellor John Lombardi. “I don’t want to walk into a political slaughterhouse,” Hall told the faculty. “There are other things to do in life.”

Hall said the issue of the campus’ flagship status has been resolved and that the University system offers some advantages for Amherst.

As evidence of his political acumen, Hall, who is deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Town, said “I worked through the democratic transition in South Africa and I’m the white guy the black chancellor put in charge of affirmative action.”

According to Hall, building support on Beacon Hill means explaining the importance of the University to the state’s long-term economic health. “We can’t be sure favorable state appropriations will continue,” he said. “We need to seize the opportunity of having a friendly governor to support us.”

As an outsider, Hall said political leaders may be inclined to cut him some slack since he’s unfamiliar with the landscape.

Hall emphasized the need to include faculty, students and staff in efforts to build the Amherst campus’ identity, raise money and recruit top faculty and students. “I’m a strong believer in teamwork,” he said, “but I would need to understand the relationship of the chancellor with the provost and vice chancellors.”

The chancellor, according to Hall, should be the “fulcrum between the internal and external communities.” To be a major player in higher education, he said, it’s not only important how UMass Amherst is perceived in Boston, but also in London, Beijing and Cape Town.

To help promote multidisciplinary pursuits and alleviate “siloing” between schools and colleges, Hall suggested establishing an institute for advanced studies on campus. “It would help attract interesting scholars for short terms so the costs are lower, and challenge disciplinary boundaries that, if you don’t do something like this, your silos will kill you,” he said.

At his own campus, he said, there are 20 degrees of separation between him and another deputy vice-chancellor across the hallway, but only three degrees between Hall and the pope.

Hall said the issue of involving junior faculty in governance and campuswide responsibilities can be problematic, but the issue of their alienation needs to be figured out and addressed. “Renewal is crucial,” he said. “We’re not going to be here forever.”

Saying his daughter was a “proud graduate of Commonwealth College,” Hall praised the honors program’s experiential learning emphasis.

But he also noted that as a parent of a student, he was never approached by development staff for a donation and he twice expressed that campus’ need to cultivate the large in-state alumni population. “You have 100,000 alumni within a three-hour drive,” said Hall. “You need to begin a long-term conversation with those people to develop a tradition of giving back.”

Hall said his fundraising experience also includes working with major individual donors and foundations. He said he’s currently working on a $20 million gift. At Cape Town, which has no endowment, “everything needs to be paid from the cash flow,” he said.

Hall also conceded that he’s unfamiliar with a highly unionized work environment, but prefers to deal with union leaders rather than large unorganized groups. He also said he would need to get up to speed to understand fully the complexities of the graduate employees’ collective bargaining agreements and stipends.

After taking a tour of the “worst buildings on campus,” Hall said facilities appear to be a major concern on campus, though as an archaeologist, he said it pains him to demolish structures unless they’re completely beyond repair. “The coal-fired power plant is a symphony,” he said. “I could see it being turned into an art gallery.”

Hall expressed concern about the apparent slow pace of the Amherst 250 faculty hiring program and said he would need to study it more to see how startup costs for new faculty may be a hindrance.