Assuming his role as 11th chancellor of University of Massachusetts Amherst, exactly a year later after his peer Jamshed Bharucha, is Kumble Subbaswamy. Born in Karnataka, he graduated in physics from Bangalore University (1969) and went on to complete his master’s and PhD in the same subject from Delhi University (1971) and Indiana University (1976) respectively. Though he is a US citizen now, Subbaswamy is proud of his Indian roots. “Much of my value system and outlook was formed in India. UMass has a long tradition of international engagement, including India. Many prominent leaders from India such as Devang Khakhar, director, IIT-Bombay, and Harsh Singhania, MD, JK Paper Limited, are our alumni.” Subbaswamy was previously the provost of University of Kentucky and also served as dean of Indiana University and University of Miami.
Being the leader of one of the public flagship campuses in the US, Subbaswamy declares his job is both humbling and rewarding. “I would describe my role as opening doors, whether to higher education or the economically disadvantaged, or the creation of new knowledge. I am grinning ear to ear that my university is heavily involved in regional economic development efforts, as well as improving general quality of life,” he beams.
Acknowledging globalisation for creating greater opportunities for people from different nationalities, he disagrees that racism has affected Indians. “On the contrary, academics and doctors are held in high esteem here. Cultural differences can give pause to one’s rise within leadership ranks, but those who persevere will get ahead,” says the 62-year-old. As a campus leader, Subbaswamy seeks out true talent, without regard to the colour or shape in which it comes.
Subbaswamy is indeed in touch with the happenings here, especially in higher edu. “There is great variability among education institutions in India, ranging from world-class institutes to fly-by-night colleges. The growth in demand for college degrees represents a great opportunity for the government to increase the number of high quality research universities. Finding a good balance between pure academic merit and ethnic inclusion will also be critical for the country’s overall success,” he suggests.
Describing himself as a political junkie, for leisure, Subbaswamy picks up contemporary Anglophone literature by Indian diaspora. Mystery novels are another great escape for him. Travelling to India every year, the chancellor is awed by the surprises the city he grew up in has been throwing at him. “Signs of improved economic prosperity mark Bangalore. It is heartening to see India’s full economic and intellectual potential being unleashed,” he says. Subbaswamy and his wife, Mala, live at Hillside, the campus home for the chancellor, along with their children Apurva and Adarsh. New developments across the intellectual and cultural spectra also keep him hooked.