The new permanent chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston—Marcelo Suárez-Orozco—was declared on Feb. 10, 2020. Suárez-Orozco was able to sit down for an interview right before spring break.
Claire Speredelozzi: How are you today?
Marcelo Suárez-Orozco: Good! Beautiful day, beautiful campus.
CS: Thank you for coming and having me interview you. So I have some questions for you. Do you know when you exactly start at UMass Boston as chancellor?
MSO: August 1, 2020.
CS: Do you have any plans as chancellor for UMass Boston in your head right now?/Do you have an initial plan?
MSO: Yes, very much so. I want to take the first few months to listen, to learn, to familiarize myself with the various communities, the various stakeholders, to really get a first hand sense of the issues, what are the ambitions, what are the concerns, what are the challenges. Ideally you have to be productive and have a sort of framework of issues you want to address within the standing that many things, that are unexpected, come to the fore and require your attention. The coronavirus is Exhibit A of how we need to be both proactive and reactive to the issues that come to the for.
CS: You mentioned coronavirus—do you think that will put a stand-still on international students at UMass Boston?
MSO: So I think it's, again, we need to know, we need to study, we need to hear from the experts. I think today is extremely important that we are mindful of the guidance that the scientists and the folk in the health domains, that are working with us to make the kinds of judgments that are required to ensure both the safety of all our students, staff, of our faculty while giving the students the opportunity to continue to learn, to continue to engage, to continue to be part of the community. I think it's too soon to tell the kinetic rate at which this is moving is very, very intense. What was true 12 hours ago is not true today, now. So, this is a study on being adaptive to real time issues and real time changes and there's a lesson there. Darwin, 150 years ago, said it's not the smartest who survive, it's not the fittest who survive, it's the most adaptable and I think that's the case today. Be ready to adapt to the new issues that will come to the fore.
CS: Besides the coronavirus, what are the challenges you see right now in starting Chancellor of UMass Boston?
MSO: Well I think that every chancellor in every major big public research university needs to be thinking deeply and constantly about student experience, student engagement, student excellence, student well-being. So I'd like to put that at the very, very center of how am I am thinking about the duties and the obligations and the responsibilities of the chancellor and the purpose of our work is the chancellor of knowledge, of wisdom, and of competencies, of skills to the next generation and student experience needs to be at the center of that proposition.
CS: How do you feel leaving your deanship?
MSO: It's sad. It's bittersweet. I had an extraordinary opportunity at UCLA, I learned a great deal. We had an extraordinary journey together. Once I felt we had the structures in place, the instruments in place to ensure the well-being and the flourishing of my school—ours is the oldest school at UCLA. Actually, UCLA grew around education, which is the school I'm the dean of now. Once those systems are in place, it's my great honor and responsibility to take on a challenge such as becoming chancellor of the great public university in the city of Boston. So it's bittersweet ... I am happy to say I am leaving UCLA in better shape than when I found it and that's all we can hope for.
CS: How do you think you can change UMass Boston for the better?
MSO: So, I think *we* can change UMass Boston for the better. I think that it is by listening, it is by learning, it is by forming authentic, organic partnership with all our stakeholders that UMass Boston is ready to reach the next level of excellence, of relevance, of purpose, in the city of Boston. But what I learned over the years, and I have white hair now because I've been around, is that the real significant, meaningful, authentic, change is really done with a sense of purpose and in a collective in a context. So I very much believe it is about relationships, it's about understanding what are the ambitions, what are the motivations. What's working? What do we need to do better? All of that is a shared task. I am an anthropologist by training and anthropologists developed a really important tool—the idea of culture, the idea of cultures, and the idea of identities ... So I want to understand the cultures, I want to understand the identities, I want to understand the issues, and I want to create good partnerships to take us to the next level of excellence and relevance.