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Staff, students get the chance to vet finalists in UMass Amherst chancellor search

The Old Chapel at UMass Amherst.
Courtesy
The Old Chapel at UMass Amherst.

Two finalists in the search for the next chancellor at UMass Amherst were asked how they would address the discrimination experienced by students of color, and about a chancellor's role in negotiating union contracts.

Paul Tikalsky is currently the dean of the College of Engineering at Oklahoma State University. Javier Reyes is the interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago. Both were in western Massachusetts in recent days taking questions from the campus community.

Javier Reyes, interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago, speaks at UMass Amherst on Feb. 13, 2023. Reyes is one of two finalists for the position of chancellor at UMass.
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UMass
Javier Reyes, interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago, speaks at UMass Amherst on Feb. 13, 2023. Reyes is one of two finalists for the position of chancellor at UMass.

Meeting with students on Monday, Reyes was asked how he would respond to student activism, especially if it was in opposition to school policy.

Reyes responded that there are guidelines for how to demonstrate on a college campus, and tone matters too.

"It's really having this understanding that we want to hear your voice, but we [don't ] want to hear you only screaming," he said. "Can we talk about it?"

Safety is also a factor, he said.

"How we can have security presence to protect everyone," Reyes said, "not only those that are demonstrating, but those that may disagree with your demonstration?"

Reyes was also asked for his favorite "Star Wars" character. Both Yoda and Darth Vader, he replied.

When meeting with faculty and staff on Friday, Tikalsky was asked to provide examples of holding colleagues and supervisors accountable. He spoke about a professor he dealt with who was teaching a senior-level class.

Paul Tikalsky, dean of the college of engineering at Oklahoma State University, speaks at UMass Amherst on Feb. 10, 2023. Tikalsky is one of two finalists for the position of chancellor at the campus.
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UMass
Paul Tikalsky, dean of the college of engineering at Oklahoma State University, speaks at UMass Amherst on Feb. 10, 2023. Tikalsky is one of two finalists for the position of chancellor at the campus.

"There was an Asian female in his class and he wanted to just kick her out," Tikalsky explained, "because he didn't think she belonged there and he doesn't even know her. [The professor's] department head talks to him and he just ignores it. He says, 'I'm a full professor. What can you do to me?'"

In cases like this, Tikalsky said, a leader can't back down. "You can't say, 'Oh, he's tenured, there's nothing you can do about it.'"

The faculty member was sent to a counselor who focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion, Tikalsky said, but he would have fired him if necessary.

UMass President Marty Meehan and the university system's board will make the final decision on which candidate to hire. Officials expect the next chancellor to be on campus by summer, when Kumble Subbaswamy retires after 11 years in the post.

Disclosure: The license for NEPM's main radio signal is held by UMass Amherst. Our newsroom operates independently.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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