Chancellor Subbaswamy: UMass is not ‘a problem to solve’

  • University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy responds to a standing ovation at the Community Breakfast on Friday morning in the Student Union Ballroom on campus. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Carlea Dolcine, UMass senior from Somerville, offered comments about being a community scholar and community engagement at the Community Breakfast on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Subbaswamy attended his final Community Breakfast as head of the state’s flagship campus on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy attended his final Community Breakfast as head of the state’s flagship campus on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Lydia Washington, the senior director of student engagement at UMass, takes a picture with UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy at the Community Breakfast on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy attended his final Community Breakfast as head of the state’s flagship campus on Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kumble Subbaswamy enjoys his at his final Community Breakfast at UMass. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • UMass Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy listens to the student speaker, Carlea Dolcine, at the Community Breakfast Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Monday, September 12, 2022

AMHERST — Even though thousands of University of Massachusetts students make their homes in neighborhoods in Amherst and beyond, outgoing Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy used last Friday’s annual Community Breakfast to push back on the idea that there are too few beds on campus.

“We are not a problem to solve, we are an asset to deploy,” Subbaswamy said of the university’s role in the community during his talk at the breakfast, his final one as head of the Amherst campus.

At the 55th event that brings together a few hundred municipal, regional and campus leaders, and members of the business community in the Student Union Ballroom for a meal catered by UMass Dining, Subbaswamy explained that UMass will never provide 100% housing for its students.

“It is not an option, as it is not aligned with the experience we offer our students, and it would put us at a serious competitive disadvantage with our peer institutions,” Subbaswamy said.

But he pledged to have UMass at the table with municipal officials and private developers as an effort is made to meet student housing demand and try to stem a trend of investors buying affordable homes and turn them into rental units.

Subbaswamy made a point to note the quality of a UMass education, with the university rising to 26th in the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings of public universities, as well as the ongoing effort to recruit top students from the state and country, shown in the average grade-point average of incoming students rising to 4.02.

Successes during his decadelong tenure, the chancellor said, have included offering a competitive living and learning environment and being committed to achieving the 2032 goal of a net-zero energy campus.

“With all successes, we’re determined not be complacent,” Subbaswamy said.

The chancellor also spoke about how UMass is a regional economic driver, even during a time when 700 of the 5,200 staff positions on campus are vacant due to a shortage of applicants.

Additionally, he pointed out the $75 million coming from the state to build a new computer science complex, for which the university is about to break ground.

“Through collaboration, compromise and a shared contextual understanding of the university’s role and standing, together you can build a resilient, thriving diverse region that serves as a national model of economic and social equality and inclusivity,” Subbaswamy said.

Housing pushback

But it was on the topic of student housing, where UMass is often deemed a culprit in aiding absentee landlords, that Subbaswamy spoke forcefully, noting that of the 22,900 undergraduates, over 60% live on campus, a far higher percentage than similar universities, and a new 600-bed dormitory is being built through a public-private partnership.

“So don’t tell me that we don’t provide enough housing,” Subbaswamy said.

Schools with nearly identical standing in the U.S. News rankings, he said, include Indiana Bloomington, where 27% of the 32,970 undergraduates live on campus; Texas A&M, where 20% of its 55,500 undergraduates live on campus; and Minnesota, where just 13% of the 36,000 undergraduates live on campus.

Subbaswamy expressed appreciation to the legislative team from the region as ambassadors for the campus, recognizing the presence of state Sen. Jo Comerford, along with Reps. Mindy Domb, Daniel Carey and Lindsay Sabadosa. He joked that if the Legislature can continue to provide sufficient support, following the recovery from pandemic financial losses, he might consider staying on.

Nevertheless, Subbaswamy said the breakfast was not his farewell. “This is not goodbye. I still have 10 more months,” he said.

Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Claudia Pazmany said the towns and UMass need to link arms and engage to achieve an equitable, safe and economically vibrant community.

She also thanked UMass for innovation on campus. “Mostly you have taught us the possibility, all that is possible is here,” Pazmany said.

Carlea Dolcine, a senior from Somerville who is double majoring in psychology and Afro American studies, offered comments about being a community scholar and about community engagement. Dolcine said her education has taught her to appreciate she will have the power to be a game-changer when she graduates.

The chamber’s vice president, Heidi Flanders, who owns Integrity Development & Construction, thanked UMass for its commitment to businesses as she promoted the What’s Next campaign that is creating more jobs, community spaces and events, and announced that “Home of” would be the next campaign to emphasize local places.

“Shopping small has never been more important for our area,” Flanders said.

Others at the breakfast included members of the Town Council and the Amherst Fire Department, Police Community Liaison Officer Bill Laramee and comfort dog Auggie, Lynnette Watkins, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt and Amherst College President Michael Elliott, who Subbaswamy said might have been the first president from the neighboring institution to be at the breakfast.

The theme of welcoming students began when emcee Tony Maroulis, executive director of community and strategic initiatives, noted the breakfast was being held on one of the university’s move-in days for the first time. He asked that the community embrace the students and celebrate the good they bring to Amherst and the region.

Subbaswamy ribbed Maroulis by saying that he will shed a tear for all that he will miss at UMass when it’s time to leave. “One thing I won’t miss is Tony’s horrible jokes,” Subbaswamy said. “Year after year, my God, Tony.”

As the event started, Maroulis read a land acknowledgment that the campus is situated on Indigenous peoples’ land. “The Pocumtuck has connections with this land for generations,” Maorulis said. Like past breakfasts, it concluded with a performance by the UMass Minuteman Marching Band.