UMass Amherst: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends

Summer 2008

Seizing the Moment
Dr. Robert C. Holub becomes the 28th chancellor of the flagship campus

Photo: Chancellor Holub
UMass Chancellor Robert Holub (photo by John Solem)

The first sentences of the search firm document are what attracted Robert C. Holub to the post of chancellor, he says.

“The Board of Trustees and the University President aspire to move UMass Amherst into the top tier of public universities in the country.

They seek a Chancellor who can seize the moment and aid them in this effort.”

The job description proved a winning fit. In many ways UMass Amherst is a combination of the two campuses Holub has experienced during his nearly three decades in academia.

“The student body and the general atmosphere of UMass Amherst remind me a great deal of Berkeley,” says Holub. “Its desire to become a better institution is something it has in common with Knoxville.”

UMass Amherst has what it takes to move into the top echelon of public universities, he says: “a somewhat undervalued faculty, great and enthusiastic students, a dedicated and competent staff,” and support from the system and the state. “I want to help it on that path.”

Part of the work ahead for Holub will involve fostering broad support for a vision and a corresponding plan of action, as well as bringing constituencies—and their energy and ideas—into the process. His background in the humanities will help him in this work, he believes, as his studies have trained him to be an effective communicator.

“The study of literature and language has shown me over the years how important words are, and that meaning is conveyed not merely by their narrow definitions, but by connotations and context,” says Holub. Administrators especially need to realize that people will “interpret and parse their words,” and that “the same words may have a different sense for another individual or group,” he says. “Language is a wonderful tool of communication, but if we are not sensitive to its nuances, it can turn into a horrible tool for misunderstanding.”

Studying German history, says Holub, taught him the necessity of protecting human rights, while his close reading of German philosophers has informed his views of academic freedom and free speech. “Perhaps the most influential thinker for me has been Jürgen Habermas, particularly his notion of the public sphere, an arena in which individuals converse about communal issues without coercion and where the best argument emerges victorious,” says Holub. “It is important to have a process and a realm in which individuals can make arguments openly and freely and know that they are taken seriously.”

Thinking and debating about how to retain students, inspire research, and engender diversity won’t push UMass Amherst up the ranks. Old-fashioned elbow grease is needed, too, and Holub’s résumé details a willingness to work in the trenches. He has served on dozens of committees with tasks ranging from space allocation and capital investment planning to improving faculty housing, formulating educational policy, and safeguarding academic freedom. He made these contributions while teaching, directing dissertations, and writing and editing his own scholarly works.

Holub’s commitment to advancing the campus doesn’t come at the price of shortchanging students. He says he believes a chief responsibility of higher education is to help produce an informed citizenry, and that the general education component of the campus’s offerings is key to that goal. “Since we grant degrees to the future leaders of our communities, our state, and the country, we need to expose students to different kinds of knowledge so that they appreciate different perspectives and are inspired to continue learning long after they have graduated,” says Holub.

Keeping alumni connected will also prove critical to the campus’s success, he says. He has crossed paths with a handful of graduates so far, and he plans to meet many more both on campus and in his official travels, with a visit to Boston first on the list. “In coming years we will depend increasingly on alumni for both financial and governmental support, and they need to understand the important things that are happening on campus,” he says. “Integrating alumni into the campus, whether that involves physical presence or a feeling of belonging to the UMass Amherst family, will be one of the chief goals in my first few years as chancellor.”

Full Name: Robert Charles Holub (goes by Bob)
Born: Neptune, New Jersey, 09/22/49
He and his wife, Sabine, have three girls: Madelaine, 7, Shoshanah, 5, and Natalie, 1. His son, Alexei, earned a PhD from Cal Tech in 2007.

Bachelor’s: Natural Science, University of Pennsylvania
Master’s: Comparative Literature and German, University of Wisconsin-Madison
PhD: German, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Recognized scholar of 19th- and 20th-century German intellectual, cultural, and literary history
Has written 12 books and 100+ articles and essays, with a focus on German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, controversial philosopher Friedrick Nietzsche, and postwar social theorist Jürgen Habermas

Career Highlights
University of California-Berkeley 1979-2006 Professor of German; made full professor in 1989
Chair, German Department, 1991-1997 (department ranked best in its field by the National Research Council in 1995) Undergraduate Dean, College of Letters and Science, 2003-2006 (introduced significant reforms in general education, undergraduate advising, and educational policy for the 18,000 Berkeley students) University of Tennessee 2006-2008 Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs (oversaw the education of approximately 20,000 undergraduate and 6,000 graduate students for the flagship Knoxville campus)

Changing of the Guard: Interim Chancellor Dr. Thomas Cole offi cially hands over management of the Amherst campus to Dr. Robert C. Holub on August 1, 2008. Thanks to Dr. Cole’s hard work, campus initiatives such as new construction and faculty hiring have remained on pace.

Rise in Giving: At press time, gifts and pledges to the campus totaled nearly $28,000,000, a 25 percent increase in philanthropic support over last year.

Life Sciences: Of the recently approved $1 billion bill to fund biotechnology research and development in the Bay State, an anticipated $95 million is earmarked for the design and construction of a life sciences research center on the UMass Amherst campus.

Welcome Home: Massachusetts veterans who served in combat areas in Afghanistan and Iraq since September 11, 2001 and are admitted into degree programs are now eligible for $2,000-per-year tuition waivers.

Degree Rescinded: UMass Board of Trustees voted unanimously to revoke an honorary degree bestowed on African leader Robert Mugabe in 1986 in light of his links to human rights abuses.

More stories

Seizing the Moment
Dr. Robert C. Holub becomes the 28th chancellor of the flagship campus
Science Notebook
Something to Chew On; Of Lice and Men; Fat Tastes Good, and other cool UMass Amherst tidbits
Sports Minutes
Bleeding Maroon; A Senior Moment; A Grand Celebration; Of Thrice and Men

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