‘Rising star’ Javier Reyes confirmed as next UMass chancellor

  • University of Massachusetts chancellor candidate, Javier Reyes, answers question from faculty, staff, and students Monday afternoon, Feb. 13, 2023.

  • University of Massachusetts chancellor candidate, Javier Reyes, answers question from faculty, staff, and students Monday afternoon, Feb. 13, 2023.

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 16, 2023

AMHERST — Moments after a unanimous vote Thursday morning by the University of Massachusetts board of trustees naming him the chancellor-elect for the flagship campus, Javier Reyes offered his appreciation for being selected in both English and then Spanish.

“Muchas gracias,” Reyes said as part of his brief remarks in Spanish to both the trustees and UMass President Marty Meehan.

In English, Reyes, interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago, elaborated on his excitement at assuming the chancellor role at a university committed to advancing the frontiers of research and innovation and promoting economic empowerment and equity.

“UMass Amherst is an amazing institution,” Reyes said, describing it as having an upward trajectory that few institutions can hope to match. “UMass is a place or everyone to grow, thrive and succeed.”

Reyes, 48, said he will also be committed to attracting, retaining and developing talent for the state.

The vote on Reyes came after Meehan tabbed him to succeed Kumble Subbaswamy, who has held the position since 2012 and will retire at the end of June.

“Javier Reyes is the right person to become the next chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst,” Meehan said. 

Reyes, an economist and native of Mexico, has shown uncommon energy and vision throughout career, Meehan said, including previous work at West Virginia University and the University of Arkansas, and will bring a perspective on the challenges facing international students, which is critical as the campus and the state become more diverse.

Meehan said Reyes will be engaged in the tenets of diversity, equity and inclusion “based on an authentic experience.” 

“Javier is a rising star in higher education in this country, and I have enormous confidence in his ability,” Meehan said.

Meehan pointed to the University of Illinois Chicago is an R1 Carnegie Classification research institution. With its $440 million in research awards, the university places in the top 65 in the nation.

Trustees Chairman Stephen Karam said the search committee identified a strong leader who can drive the flagship campus even higher and that the vote marks “a great day for the flagship.”

“From the very beginning, we were determined to find a special leader who could build on all that has been accomplished over the past decade and help drive our flagship campus even higher,” Karam said.

Subbaswamy added his appreciation for Reyes. “He impressed me and the campus groups he met with for his emotional intelligence,” Subbaswamy said, adding that he found Reye creative, collaborative and humble.

Board of trustees members spoke about their enthusiasm, too.

“I think Dr. Reyes is going to be a terrific person to succeed Swamy,” said Betsy Scheibel  “These are huge shoes to fill.”

“This is a pretty historic selection,” said Jose Delgado, adding that there has been significant buzz surrounding Reyes. “He’s the right person at the right time in the university’s history.”

Meehan said Reyes’ wife, Maritza, will take both the campus and the state by storm.

Victor Woolridge, who chaired the search committee, said the hardest part of the work was finding someone with similar qualities to Subbaswamy. After a search firm looked at 108 prospective candidates and interviewed 26, he believes the right fit was found.

“You’re all going to love him and his wife, I guarantee,” Woolridge said.

In praising the leadership of Subbaswany, trustee Mary Burns told him that he transformed the Amherst campus into a national powerhouse.

Meehan, too, applauded Subbaswamy. “We are grateful, Swamy, for your stellar service,” Meehan said. 

Following the vote, Reyes said he has no fear in replacing Subbaswamy, only excitement, and that he is ready to focus on any challenges affecting the university and its host community.

One of those is the limited housing options that has put pressure on neighborhoods and driven up rents.

“Housing is a challenge in most university communities,” Reyes said. “It’s about understanding what’s driving that challenge.”

He also pledged to look at the football team, noting that athletics draws the attention of the region and creates affinity with the campus.

Reyes said that town-gown work will be a focus. 

“It’s one of the most important roles of the chancellor,” Reyes said. “It’s about the outreach we do as a university, and that we do it correctly.”

Lynn Griesemer, president of the Amherst Town Council, commended the search committee for the diligent work leading up to an outstanding appointment.

“Dr. Reyes' brings significant academic and administrative experience and demonstrated ability to partner with the Amherst community,” Griesemer said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.