UMass Amherst Chancellor Holub addresses HOD

Issue January 2012

Robert C. Holub, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, delivered the following address on Nov. 10, 2011, at the Massachusetts Bar Association's House of Delegates meeting at UMass Amherst's Campus Center Auditorium. During MBA President Richard P. Campbell's 2011-12 term, HOD meetings are being held at different UMass campuses.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! It is my pleasure to welcome you to the campus of UMass Amherst, the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts, and to welcome back particularly Richard Campbell, your president and a proud UMass trustee.

We are part of a five-spoke tour for you, of each of the campuses that make up the University of Massachusetts system. Each campus has its particular character. As the flagship campus, UMass Amherst has a very special responsibility: We are, in many ways, the state in microcosm, or if you will, a "microcommonwealth."

The present challenges and potential future of a great land-grant research university mirrors the life of Massachusetts as a whole. We feel the pinch of economic tightness in ways that are specialized to the world of higher education, but they are similar in form to what everyone feels these days: In the past decade, state-allocated funds for higher education have decreased by 27 percent. In real dollars, the amount of funding the campus is receiving this year is $35 million less than it was when I began as chancellor in 2008, and adjusted for inflation, we are now receiving less from the state in appropriations than we have at any time during the last quarter of a century.
At the same time, we are seeing an increased need for scholarships and student access to higher education. The number of students who qualify for Pell Grants has risen dramatically. Fortunately, our institutional financial aid has increased at a rate greater than the increase in Pell-Grant recipients.

But what is truly remarkable is that this increase in percentage of lack dovetails with other increases that are astounding and record-setting for the campus. The students whose educations we aid and endow are the best ever in the history of our university. For three years in a row, we have recruited a class that broke the previous year's record for size and achievement. Four years ago, we received just over 27,000 applications for a first-year class of 4,286, and this year we had close to 33,000 applications for a first-year class of nearly 4,700.

Last year, we awarded over 5,000 baccalaureate degrees for the first time in our history: one of every 10 undergraduate degrees in the commonwealth comes from UMass Amherst. The average SAT score of our incoming students has increased 47 points in five years, and the high school GPA is over 3.6. And the student body is more diverse than ever: five years ago, 18.4 percent of our undergraduates were minority students; this year, students from ethnic minorities are 22.4 percent of the incoming class.

These figures indicate a greater quality and depth of education through a richer and more various texture of voices, but pragmatically in the long term, they also make a UMass degree of greater competitive value, and of enormous promise.

External sources recognize that we are definitely on the rise: this year, we jumped five places on the U.S. News and World Report's Best Colleges list, to 94th among all national universities, both public and private. From 2010 to 2012 we rose 10 places, from 52nd to 42nd, among all public national universities. Such significant leaps are a rare feat indeed, and it means we will continue to attract remarkable students, who are the future of our commonwealth.
Fortunately, we are able to give many of our accomplished students access to an excellent education through scholarships funded through philanthropy. Indeed, for the past two years, we set campus records for fundraising, and we are on a trajectory to have a very successful capital campaign.

As a research university with a sense of public service and responsibility to our state, we are also a site for innovation and distinctive research that interweaves with the commonwealth's industry and manufacture: our Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing this fall received a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to apply the nanotechnologies emerging from the CHM's laboratories to uses in the private sector.

Our research capacities are being enlisted more and more to the public service: We have received a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program, also known as IGERT, to begin an interdisciplinary graduate program in offshore wind energy engineering, environmental science and public policy.

Moving eastward, we are revitalizing our marine lab in Gloucester to study ocean ecosystems, particularly, at present, the effect of overfishing on populations of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic.

And we have won a $7.5 million grant to host the Northeast Climate Center for the U.S. Department of the Interior to study the effects of climate change.

We take great pride in our heritage, in our past as old "Mass Aggie," when we were Massachusetts Agricultural College; and we still possess great strengths in our Stockbridge School of Agriculture and in the Department of Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences. Farming may seem humble and unglamorous in a high-speed world of information exchange, and of nanotechnology. But the problem of how to feed 7 billion humans on this earth in a sustainable and locally based way, with minimal ecological impact on our planetary future, is perhaps the most critical of all human needs.

Anne Averill, associate professor of insect sciences, received a five-year, $3.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop strategies for protecting wild bees in farming areas throughout the Northeast. Our students are building permaculture gardens all over campus, and learning how to plow with rescued draft horses at Hadley Farm, and are studying ways of farming that are smaller, locally based, more sustainable, and ultimately, independent of the need for foreign oil.

Our future -- and by this I mean not only UMass Amherst's future, but our shared future, our commonwealth's future -- is in our history. That is where perhaps our most necessary innovation and greatest creativity lie.

Just like the Massachusetts Bar Association, our success is deeply interwoven with the health of our state. We must continue to make the highest quality of education available to citizens of the commonwealth, and make sure that our students continue the momentum of their innate brilliance and talent, and convey that brilliance into a bright future for Massachusetts, for our country and for our globe.

I have the utmost faith in this university's ability to create and innovate in grounded ways, linked to the region, linked to local community, but that ultimately have a global effect. In this way, UMass Amherst is a harbinger and exemplar. We are proud to belong to such a strong university system and to a gifted and resilient commonwealth.
I welcome you to our campus. Go UMass!