An administrator and German scholar who has made a career of working at public universities has been selected to be the next chancellor of the University of Massachusetts’ flagship Amherst campus.
Robert Holub, 58, currently the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Tennessee, was selected from four finalists on Wednesday by UMass President Jack Wilson.
The decision now goes before the board of trustees for approval at a special meeting on Monday.
“I am very honored,” Holub said. “It makes me feel good that so many people have the confidence that I have the ability to do the job.”
Holub replaces John Lombardi, who left in August to become president of Louisiana State University after clashing with the five-campus system’s administration. Thomas Cole Jr., former president of Clark Atlanta University, has been serving as interim chancellor.
“Robert Holub is dedicated to the cause of public higher education. He has studied and taught at public universities that are among the best universities in the nation, and he will now bring a commitment to excellence to our flagship campus in Amherst,” Wilson said in a statement.
Holub joined UT in 2006 from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was dean of the undergraduate division for the College of Letters and Science.
“We regret that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will be losing an academic leader of his caliber, but we all wish him the very best in his new endeavor,” said Jan Simek, interim chancellor at UT-Knoxville, the system’s flagship campus. “His leadership has helped to improve retention and student engagement and develop new approaches for improving diversity, student access and student success.”
He oversaw all of UT-Knoxville’s academic operations including eight colleges, graduate programs, enrollment services and libraries and worked with the campus’s global education and cultural awareness programs.
Holub is expected to leave Tennessee for Massachusetts this summer. Simek said an interim provost will be announced in a few weeks.
Holub spent 27 years as a professor and administrator at UC Berkeley. As dean of Berkeley’s Undergraduate Division of the College of Letters and Science, he introduced reforms in general education, undergraduate advising and educational policy.
“My task is to lead the campus, improve the campus, and make it a better place and make it more prestigious place,” he said.
Holub comes in at a time of change at the university and on the heels of heightened tension between the Amherst campus and administration two hours away in Boston.
Lombardi clashed with Wilson and trustees over plans to overhaul leadership of the five-campus system.
Holub said he will keep an open mind.
“It’s really hard for me to judge the situation from so far away, and I am going to see what the lay of the land is first and find out everybody’s feelings,” he said. “But I do know that you don’t move a university forward by yourself. You have to have everyone on board.”
He said one of his first tasks will be to assemble a leadership team.
“The chancellor doesn’t do things alone,” he said.
Soon after Lombardi’s departure was announced last May, faculty members passed what amounted to a no-confidence measure against Wilson and trustees.
But Ernie May, a music professor and secretary of the faculty senate, called Holub an “excellent choice.”
“The relationship between the campus and Boston has always been an issue, and I think professor Holub can talk to both sides. And the context he’s coming into is nowhere near as controversial as it was a year ago,” he said.
May said Holub’s primary tasks will be rebuilding the faculty, replacing dated facilities on campus and improving what he called the “student experience.”
The 26,000-student Amherst campus is in the midst of several major building projects, including two new science buildings, and a plan launched by Lombardi to hire an additional 250 faculty members.
More needs to be done, May said.
“We have the commitment from the trustees of making this one of top public universities in the country,” he said. “The chancellor has to mobilize all the stakeholders in pursuit of this vision.”
Holub has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and two master’s degrees and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. He taught German at Tennessee and UC Berkeley. He said he expects to be in Boston for Monday’s trustees meeting.
Trustees Chairman Robert Manning called Holub “an inspiring and accomplished new leader for our flagship campus.”
“Robert Holub is committed to the very best in undergraduate and graduate education and also understands the many ways that our university must serve the commonwealth,” Manning said.
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