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Kumble Subbaswamy says goodbye to UMass Amherst, while Javier Reyes says hello

The longest serving chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Kumble Subbaswamy, stepped down from the post on Friday after 11 years.

Under Subbaswamy's leadership, the Amherst campus went up in national rankings, increased its grant-funded research — and it shed some of its reputation as being a party school known as "Zoo Mass."

Subbaswamy also led the campus through its COVID-19 pivot to online learning, as well as its transition out of the pandemic.

In recent years, several high profile incidents of racism took place on campus. Students of color and faculty called on Subbaswamy to take more action.

A survey last school year found 26% of Black students don't feel they have a place on campus.

In an interview with the Daily Collegian, Subbaswamy said he worked continuously to create a diverse, welcoming campus.

The incoming chancellor, Javier Reyes, takes over from Subbaswamy July 1.

Reyes, an economist, will be the school's first Latino chancellor. He will inherit both the solid growth on campus that Subbaswamy lead and the need to address a variety of student concerns — and labor issues.

In an interview after he was offered the job, Reyes said UMass under Subbaswamy made smart investments and set priorities, and he will continue to move all of this forward.

"I would say that if there's one area [that's a priority], that is making [the campus] a welcoming, diverse, inclusive kind of place," Reyes said, "where diversity, equity and inclusion can continue to thrive."

Subbaswamy had a big presence on campus — and Reyes acknowledged he has some big shoes to fill. When he interviewed on campus in February, he told students that if he were to get the job, he'd eat alongside them in the dining halls from time to time.

Subbaswamy's popularity — he was fondly called "Swamy" by students and even staff — was aided in part by the era in which he lead UMass Amherst; he was the school's first chancellor to actively use social media.

It was for some a quest to get a selfie with Subbaswamy and after he announced he was stepping down, alumni launched #SwamySelfies.

At McGuirk Stadium this past May during Subbaswamy's final undergraduate commencement as chancellor, he told students how they challenged him on many issues, including his timeline for making UMass Amherst a carbon-zero campus.

"Had you not used your student power, the university would have missed a critical opportunity to accelerate its vision for a fossil free campus and being a leader in this field," Subbaswamy told them. "This the power of young adults. "

After his speech concluded, students took to their feet and started chanting "Swamy! Swamy!"

Subbaswamy will leave the Amherst campus but remain a part of the university system. In March, UMass President Marty Meehan appointed him interim senior vice president for academic and student affairs and equity, serving the five-campus, 74,000-student system.

Reyes, in February, said he'd already connected with his predecessor.

"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," Reyes said at the time.

A UMass Amherst spokesperson, Ed Blaguszewski, said this month that neither Reyes nor Subbaswamy were available to be interviewed.

Blaguszewski said Subbaswamy had been in "intermittent contact with the Chancellor-Elect over the course of the spring to keep him informed of notable matters and to answer questions."

Disclosure: The license for NEPM’s main radio signal is held by UMass Amherst. NEPM's 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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