Physicist Kumble R. Subbaswamy may have some claim to fame for being related to Indian cricketer Anil Kumble, but that is not what attracted the board of trustees of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to hire him as chancellor; it was his experience as an administrator at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where he has been provost since 2006.
Subbaswamy, who is scheduled to take over as UMass chancellor June 1, is among a growing number of Indian-Americans selected to head higher education institutions in this country over the last few years.
He told News India Times that his Indian upbringing and values have been an integral part of his management style, and he hopes that will help him at UMass.
The UMass board of trustees said Subbaswamy’s appointment came after a six-month search for a new chancellor for the university’s oldest and largest campus that turns 150 next year.
Trustees voted unanimously to appoint him on the recommendation of university President Robert L. Caret, who had been presented with four finalists chosen by the UMass Amherst Chancellor Search Committee.
“Moments like this define who we are as a University, what our values are, and what our vision is for ourselves and for the people of the Commonwealth,” Caret is quoted as saying in a March 26 release.
“Dr. Subbaswamy is a proven academic leader who will guide the Amherst campus to new heights. I firmly believe that he has the experience, the vision, the intellect and the drive needed to move our flagship campus forward.”
Born in Karnataka, Subbaswamy got his master’s in physics from Delhi University before coming to the United States. He joined Indiana University, Bloomington in 1971, where he completed his Ph.D. in theoretical condensed matter physics in 1976.
He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Irvine until 1978 when he joined the physics faculty at the University of Kentucky. During his first 18 years at the University of Kentucky, he served as associate dean of arts and sciences and as chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
In 1997, he was recruited away to join the University of Miami as the Dean of Arts and Sciences. In July 2000, he went to his alma mater, Indiana University where he served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, remaining in that position until 2006 when University of Kentucky attracted him back.2006.
The Amherst campus has 27,000 students, comparable to University of Kentucky that has 28,000. And the budget of the two institutions, Subbaswamy said, is also similar, if one does not count the medical campus that was also part of the University of Kentucky.
“Ours is a business built on people-to-people relationships – faculty, donors and parents. If I’ve succeeded, it’s because I know people well and they trust me. So people skills matter most,” Subbaswamy said responding to why he has been a successful administrator.
“Also, my Indian upbringing helped me, though not to stereotype it, but I certainly rely on values I was brought up with in dealing with people.”
The incoming chancellor said he would like to tackle head-on the problems most American institutions of higher learning are facing, such as skyrocketing costs and the resultant danger of becoming a bastion of the upper classes.
“The challenge is to maintain the high quality of scholarship that is the hallmark of American education while making it affordable,” he said.
At University of Kentucky, Subbaswamy is credited with improving student retention and reforming the university’s general education curriculum.
He also supported faculty through improvements to the tenure and promotion process and enhancement of work-life benefits. Other focal areas included interdisciplinary research and training, internationalization, diversity and inclusion, and strategic planning and assessment, the UMass release noted.
“I hope to bring those innovative measures to UMass, Amherst,” Subbaswamy said.