UMass Campus Aerial overlooking Old Chapel
Inauguration of Chancellor Javier Reyes


Looking Back: UMass Inaugurations through History

This is a gathering that testifies to the deep impulse that should motivate all of us—namely, the feeling that we are united, that we are a true community in the richest, most vital meaning of that word. This is a moment of dedication to that sense of community ...

John W. Lederle in his inaugural address, 1961 

The official title of UMass Amherst’s leader has changed since the institution’s inception in 1863 (and so has the name of the campus itself)—throughout our history, presidents and chancellors alike have been sworn in. While their inaugural events have looked different over the years, the themes our leaders have reflected on while looking to the future have remained consistent: UMass Amherst’s leaders have been proud of this campus, proud of its potential, proud of its excellence, and proud to shepherd its obligations as the flagship public university for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Portrait of President Butterfield. Kenyon L. Butterfield served as President of Massachusetts Agricultural College from 1906-1924.
Kenyon L. Butterfield served as president of Massachusetts Agricultural College from 1906–1924.

President Kenyon L. Butterfield is the first UMass leader on record to have been honored with an inaugural event. In 1906, a celebration in the stone chapel at the center of campus—now known as Old Chapel—marked his appointment as president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College. Many distinguished guests were present, including representatives from 14 colleges and universities such as Clark University, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, New Hampshire State College, Rhode Island State College, Connecticut Agricultural College, Amherst College, and more.

The subject of President Butterfield’s address was "The Forward Movement in Agricultural Education." While focused on the campus's status as a land-grant agricultural college, President Butterfield's speech foreshadowed the growth and momentum of UMass Amherst. He committed his best efforts to "... attempt to unlock the future’s portal with a key designed in the light of the great need which this college seems destined to fulfill."

A public office is a public trust.

President Roscoe W. Thatcher, 1927

By the time President Roscoe W. Thatcher took office in 1927, the campus and its academic focus had evolved beyond agricultural studies and research in response to the needs of students, who he noted "are changing from year to year with changing economic and social conditions." 

"A public office is a public trust," he declared, espousing the value of accessible higher education. "For us, there can be no aristocracy of education," he said, introducing the idea of "education for citizenship.” To President Thatcher, the commonwealth and nation depended on it: "The safety of any democracy rests upon the degree of this education for citizenship, which its people possess.”

Massachusetts Agricultural College was renamed Massachusetts State College under President Thatcher's leadership.

Roscoe Thatcher's inaugural parade in 1927.

Inaugural parade for Roscoe W. Thatcher (president, 19271932) approaching Stockbridge Hall, with Draper Hall visible in the background.


Hugh Baker's inauguration in 1933
The inauguration of Hugh P. Baker in 1933.

When President Hugh Potter Baker took office in 1933, there were 1,300 students enrolled. He continued his predecessor's commitment to public service through educating the citizenry. "We strive to so care for our students that they may not only do their work satisfactorily," he said, "but that social needs may be met in such a way to make for right character, culture, and better citizenship.”

By 1947, the campus was renamed the University of Massachusetts and enrollment grew to 3,220. President Ralph Van Meter prepared to lead a university that would show no signs of slowing under his leadership.

"Opportunities in higher education should not be fixed by the color of the skin, nor by the place of residence—north, south, east, or west—nor by religion, nor by sex, nor by the financial status of the parents, but by capacity for learning only," President Van Meter affirmed. In his address, he noted U.S. President Harry Truman's Commission on Higher Education, which set a goal of 4,600,000 students across the nation in college by 1960. President Van Meter committed to lead that charge in Massachusetts.

What we have is potentially a giant.

President John W. Lederle, 1961
John W. Lederle with students in the UMass Student Union.
John W. Lederle chats with students in the Student Union.

As UMass approached its centennial, President John W. Lederle looked to continued growth as the university's "commanding concern" at his inauguration in 1961.

"What we have is potentially a giant ... a great public center for excellence in higher education in this region," he said. President Lederle would be the final "president" of the Amherst campus. Under his leadership, the University of Massachusetts system grew, and future leaders of UMass Amherst would be known as “chancellors.”

The procession for Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy's inauguraton in 2013.

The procession for Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy's inauguration in 2013.

Our school's destiny is one of greatness.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, 2013
John Lombardi
John Lombardi addresses the UMass Amherst community during his inauguration in 2003.

The pomp and circumstance around inaugural events dropped off during the tenure of the first few chancellors (system presidents still received this honor). But by the beginning of the 21st century, the campus revived the tradition. On February 7, 2003, Chancellor John Lombardi—UMass Amherst's 28th leader— defined a future for the campus led by "the academic imperative." UMass Amherst, he said, was of critical importance to the public good. "We are an investment opportunity," he proclaimed. Chancellor Lombardi sought to define the importance of the campus in Amherst, calling out name-brand campuses across the country: "The key indicator of the importance of the campus comes from students and faculty, who always identify their academic work by campus: Berkeley, UCLA, Davis, not the University of California. They speak of Indiana University Bloomington, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst."

A decade later, Kumble Subbaswamy took up the helm, giving his inaugural address during the university’s sesquicentennial anniversary celebration in 2013. His tenure would establish UMass Amherst’s standing as one of the nation’s most distinguished flagship universities and an academic and research powerhouse. “For 150 years, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has served the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by making a world-class education accessible to qualified students from all walks of life, engaging in research to solve the most complex problems of the world, and working in communities to advance the human condition," Chancellor Subbaswamy reflected. He laid out an ambitious plan for the university's future, saying, "Our school’s destiny is one of greatness.”