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New chancellor Javier Reyes: 'As we came out of COVID, things changed. UMass is ready.'

Javier Reyes is the incoming chancellor of UMass Amherst.
University of Massachusetts
Javier Reyes is the incoming chancellor of UMass Amherst.

The University of Massachusetts board has unanimously approved the next leader of the Amherst campus.

Javier Reyes is currently the interim chancellor of the University of Illinois-Chicago. He'll begin as chancellor at UMass Amherst this summer.

At the board meeting Thursday, several trustees sang the praises of outgoing Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

NEPM spoke to Reyes shortly after the meeting and asked if he felt any pressure to fill Subbaswamy's shoes.

Javier Reyes, incoming chancellor: I had a conversation with [Subbaswamy] and I saw what he has built — a strong foundation that he has built on this campus, on which the campus stands. And he's also going to be close by and he's going to be a good friend to not only UMass Amherst, but the whole system.

I also wanted to say that, having been in three other land grant universities, I know what we can do. I know what needs to be done to maintain that trajectory. And I'll be working with [UMass President Marty Meehan] to ensure that that happens, working with the faculty, working with the students, and moving in some areas that we know we still have work to do, and those areas really focus on the student experience that we can continue to offer.

Jill Kaufman, NEPM: That is the question, which is what are the areas – if there's a warm handoff from Dr. Subbaswamy, what is the priority for you as you get started?

First, we continue to get an understanding of the characteristics that make UMass Amherst a welcoming space and a welcoming institution for our students. What is making it a destination for them? And being able to work with each of the academic leaders of the campus to understand what that means in all the different dimensions, whether the student experience and research acumen.

I would say that if there's one area — that making it a welcoming space, diverse, inclusive kind of place where diversity, equity and inclusion can continue to thrive.

Why did you want to come to UMass Amherst? What made you see this as a job opportunity, and also, did you apply for the chancellor job at [the University of Illinois Chicago] and can you say more about that? You've tasted the waters — the coffee or however you would describe it — of leading a campus.

I mean, I can tell you that I don't think the UIC chancellorship was in the cards, coming in, being the provost, and that it was just a short-term perspective there.

But I can tell you why [UMass Amherst] attracts me. I have seen or I have been part of universities that are taking some of the biggest challenges of their states.

West Virginia University, bringing back economic help to the state and being an economic engine for it.

Coming to UIC and seeing the importance of this university represents for the city of Chicago, say, economic mobility and access to education.

When I look at UMass Amherst, you can find all this in one university. And you find it in such a way that they have made investments, set priorities that will get them connected to the vibrant community of the state of Massachusetts and the commonwealth to continue to fuel the talent, continue to drive discovery and research, focusing on the students' experience. And I think that that has set UMass Amherst as more than ready to lead in the next chapter of higher ed that is unveiling in front of our eyes. As we came out of COVID, things changed. UMass is ready.

Football and athletics — alumni support greatly, let alone others. UMass Amherst has invested a lot in its football team, but they haven't won as many games as hoped for. The team has won less than 30% of its games during the last decade since joining the FBS, and it remains without a conference affiliation. Where do you stand on this, as the faculty and sports columnists over the years have urged UMass to drop down a division?

I'm a firm believer in athletics and their importance in the campus experience that they provide to the students, surrounding community and the connectivity of a state university with the alumni. It draws the attention and it keeps the connections and it creates affinity.

So wins and losses are important, to look at those comments. It's also important to see what what has been the return on the value for this of the affinity groups from this that they develop.

These are student athletes — and not the only ones that we want to be able to focus on. Students in the performing arts are important, they also are connected to our community. And to be able to bring them to the table and really put into perspective that that nourishes the campus experience and create that affinity, because often, later down the road you see that they show how grateful they are.

If I may, could you ever imagine a time when the theater director is making as much as the football coach, for instance? You know, you imagine that fine arts is as important as athletics. We know how much coaches make, and it's more than you will be making, I believe, on paper at least.

Yes. I mean, I can tell you that when it comes to compensation, there's always a range that you have to look at. We are part of an industry, when you think about it. And there's discipline-based and industry-based compensation analysis that has to be done. So it's always the data-oriented decisions that we have to look at.

Disclosure: The license for NEPM's main radio signal is held by UMass Amherst. Our newsroom operates independently.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."

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