University of Rochester


New College Dean Has Rochester Roots

The new top academic officer of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering plans to spend some time getting reacquainted with the institution that he called home for nearly two decades.

But Peter Lennie, who as a member of the Rochester faculty from 1982 to 1999 was the founding chair of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, says he’s hoping that his perspective as a returning member of the University community will give him unique insight into helping the College achieve its goals of academic excellence and distinction.

“In a sense, I’m an ‘inside outsider,’” says Lennie, who was introduced in January as the next Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of the College. “One of the advantages of having the inside connections is that I know a lot of people, and I think that will help me hit the ground running when I come on board in July.

“But, at the same time, one has to be wary of one’s memories of the University as it was seven years ago and focus on the College as it is now,” he says. “The College has world-class research programs, an enviably coherent and attractive curriculum, and manifest ambition for even greater distinction.

“I’m very eager to be working as a partner in helping the faculty, staff, and students of the College achieve that ambition.”

Widely praised as an accomplished academic administrator and noted neuroscientist, Lennie was selected from a national field of candidates to become Rochester’s next dean by a 12-member on-campus search committee. Currently the dean for science at New York University, Lennie assumes the Rochester post on July 1.

He succeeds Thomas J. LeBlanc, who became executive vice president and provost at the University of Miami last July.

President Joel Seligman, who welcomed Lennie and his wife, Fran, back to Rochester, says he’s rarely seen a candidate for a dean recommended with as much enthusiasm as Lennie, pointing to glowing endorsements from the search committee and colleagues who have worked with him.

“Peter was praised for his track record of strengthening existing programs and initiating new ones—while grappling successfully with the fiscal realities that face all higher education institutions,” Seligman says. “He is not only an accomplished scholar, but an imaginative leader respected by colleagues at all levels.”

One of those colleauges is John Sexton, president of NYU.

“While we are personally happy for Peter on being named the dean of the College at Rochester, institutionally we are saddened by his departure,” Sexton says. “He is not only a first-rate scientist, he has been an exceptional academic leader at NYU. During Peter’s tenure as dean for science, NYU has made crucial strides in the sciences, including the creation of the Center for Comparative Functional Genomics, the renovation of laboratories in the Silver Center complex, important recruitments of scholars in physics in both theoretical physics and soft condensed matter, and the development of a new life sciences facility on Waverly Place, our first new science facility in decades.”

Search committee chair Elissa Newport, the George Eastman Professor and chair of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, says Lennie clearly stood out as a top candidate.

“Peter will be a remarkable leader for the College,” Newport says. “Everyone who met him during our search process was impressed with his keen analytic abilities and his visionary approach to planning for the future. We are thrilled that we’ve persuaded him to return to Rochester and to lead us in our exciting next steps.”

As dean, Lennie will oversee the academic and fiscal management of the College, which is home to about 300 faculty, 3,800 undergraduates, and 1,000 graduate students.

From 1982 until 1995, Lennie served as an associate professor, then full professor of psychology and visual science at Rochester—including stints as director of the Center for Visual Science and dean of academic resources and planning. In 1995, he became Rochester’s first chair of the then newly formed Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

At NYU, Lennie is credited with dramatically strengthening the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, most notably in his leadership role in hiring top-tier faculty through NYU’s “Partners” program.

The program takes its name from a partnership of six trustees who are providing $10 million each to fund a major expansion of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, adding 100 to 125 new faculty members over five years. As a dean, Lennie is at the center on decisions of where new hires are going to be focused.

Lennie says finding ways to increase the size of the College faculty will likely be one of his priorities, but he notes that specific plans will be made within the strategic planning process under way in the College.

“The College is remarkably small by comparison with peer institutions of comparable quality,” he says. “One of the things that everyone would like to do—and I certainly intend to work very hard at doing—is to help promote growth, accompanied by increased distinction.

“Faculty growth permits us to offer a much richer range of programs and makes it easier for us to undertake research partnerships.”

A graduate of the University of Hull, England, with a bachelor of science degree in psychology in 1969, Lennie earned his doctoral degree in experimental psychology from the University of Cambridge in 1972. He was a Harkness Fellow at Northwestern University from 1972 to 1974, a research fellow at King’s College in Cambridge from 1973 to 1976, and a lecturer in experimental psychology at the University of Sussex from 1976 until 1982, when he joined the faculty at Rochester.

He is an elected a fellow of the Optical Society of America, and twice received a Merit Award from the National Eye Institute. He has served as the editor of several scientific journals, on National Academy of Sciences boards, on NIH boards, and on many other review committees.