Former UMass Amherst chancellor Holub dies at 74

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 09-06-2023 7:52 PM

AMHERST — Former University of Massachusetts Chancellor Robert Holub, who led the Amherst campus between 2008 and 2012 during a period of economic uncertainty, died Aug. 27 in Ohio, according to an email sent to the campus community from current Chancellor Javier Reyes.

“During his tenure he brought the university to new levels of recognition and competitiveness, despite severe economic challenges resulting from the Great Recession of 2008,” Reyes wrote. “His important contributions include commencing the construction of the Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community and the first phase of the Life Sciences Laboratories.”

Holub, who had turned 74 five days before his death, was also at the helm of UMass as the football program moved to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

In signing a strategic partnership deal with the town of Amherst, a key aspect was promoting the Gateway Corridor, a series of developments that were aimed at tying the UMass campus and downtown Amherst closer together. But this proved controversial, as there were concerns from some in the community about the development and whether it would include housing for undergraduates. Since that time, some in-fill developments mirroring concepts in the Gateway Corridor have occurred.

The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, even knowing Holub would be departing, honored him as a “change agent” at a fall 2011 awards banquet, several months after making an written appeal to UMass President Jack Wilson urging him to retain Holub. Then-Amherst Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe and then-Town Manager John Musante both credited Holub with improving the ties between the town and UMass and supporting initiatives such as the creation of the Amherst Business Improvement District and the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking.

Holub’s relatively brief tenure also came amid reports that he had received a poor job evaluation and had difficulty building relationships with faculty, legislators and trustees, with faculty members surveyed critical of Holub’s inability to increase student diversity and use affirmative action in hiring decisions.

His departure came after the previous permanent chancellor, John Lombardi, got into conflicts with the UMass president and trustees over the direction of the university. Under the leadership of Kumble Subbawamy since 2012, stability returned to the chancellor position and the campus.

 Reyes’ email notes that much of Holub’s career was spent at the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked for 27 years. Before becoming chancellor, he served as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He chaired the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University from 2014 to 2023.

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“Our hearts and thoughts are with his family, including his wife, Sabine, and their children,” Reyes wrote.

A celebration of life service is planned for Oct. 14 in Ohio.

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