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Martin Meehan to recommend University of Illinois Chicago leader as next UMass Amherst chancellor

Javier Reyes, an economist by training, during a recent visit to the UMass Amherst campus.UMass Amherst

Javier Reyes, interim chancellor of the University of Illinois Chicago, is in line to become the next chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

UMass President Martin Meehan said he will recommend Reyes to lead the state’s flagship campus. The university’s board of trustees is expected to formally confirm the appointment Thursday.

Reyes, 49, would succeed current chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who has led UMass Amherst since 2012. Subbaswamy said last summer that he plans to retire in June.

Originally from Mexico, Reyes would be the college’s first Hispanic chancellor. An economist by training, Reyes has served as interim chancellor of University of Illinois Chicago since July 1. Before that, he was the university’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs and also previously served as dean of the John Chambers College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University.


Meehan said in an interview that continuing the “upward trajectory” that UMass Amherst has seen in college rankings and public perception in recent years will be a top priority for the next chancellor. He added that Reyes’s “rapid rise” through academic ranks at other public land-grant, research universities made him stand out.

“His experience gives him a personal perspective on the challenges faced by underrepresented students and international students,” Meehan said. “It’s a big job, but [Reyes] also has a rare ability to communicate effectively and successfully. I think he’s an up-and-coming, nationally significant leader.”

In a recent visit to the Amherst campus, Reyes told students that he wants to hear their concerns and encouraged them to communicate more with administrators, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian reported.

“Sometimes we feel like we don’t belong in student activities, invite us,” Reyes said.

Reyes earned a PhD in economics from Texas A&M University and then joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas to teach economics in 2003.


Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey called Reyes is an “innovative and dynamic leader.”

“I’m confident that he will inspire students and faculty alike to continue growing the school’s excellence in education and research,” Healey said in a statement to the Globe.

Amanda Fernández, founder and CEO of Latinos for Education in Belmont, also praised Meehan’s recommendation.

“Seeing Latino leadership at the highest levels of education is an important signal to not only the Latino community, but to an ever-diverse student body that representation matters,” Fernandez said in a statement.

The search for the new chancellor started in July with a 21-member committee chaired by Victor Woolridge, class of 1980. The committee identified 108 candidates, of which 26 were interviewed.

Joining Reyes as a finalist was Paul Tikalsky, dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology at Oklahoma State University.

UMass Amherst has become more selective in recent years, with applications growing 30 percent in the past decade, even as the state’s population of high school graduates has declined. The university jumped from 52nd in 2010 to 26th this year in the public category of the US News and World Report rankings.

Amid the increased brand recognition, the total cost of in-state tuition, fees, room and board at UMass Amherst for the upcoming academic year is $33,120, an increase of about 40 percent from the previous decade.

Hilary Burns can be reached at hilary.burns@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hilarysburns.