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University Announces New Dean of Faculty of the College

January 23, 2006

Announcement from President Seligman

University Announces New Dean of Faculty of the College

I am delighted to announce this morning that Peter Lennie, currently the Dean for Science at New York University's College of Arts and Science, will be the new Vice Provost and the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty for the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, beginning July 1, 2006.

As you know, this Search for a Dean of the Faculty for the College was truly pivotal for this University, because the College is the heart of our undergraduate and graduate education and research. It has connections and collaborations with every other school in the University. With 317 faculty members teaching 3,820 undergraduate and 1,065 graduate students, it is one of the premier tier-one research and teaching institutions in the nation.

Rarely has the choice of a Dean been based on such unanimous enthusiasm. The search committee, chaired by Elissa Newport—to a person—characterized Peter as their first choice in a field with two other very outstanding finalists. He was praised for his leadership skill; for his track record at the University of Rochester where he was the first department chair of Brain and Cognitive Sciences; for his ability as NYU's Dean for Science to grow new, outstanding programs; for his willingness to listen; for his ability to build consensus; for his decisiveness; and, significantly, for his ability to initiate new programs and address fiscal problems at the same time. Peter is an accomplished scholar—an international authority on how visual perception can be explained in terms of underlying neural mechanisms. His status as a premier scientist mattered to our faculty.

If anything, the enthusiastic endorsement of Peter's outside references was even more extraordinary. Beginning with the President of New York University, John Sexton, and proceeding through the Dean to whom Peter reported and including deans who were Peter's peers, as well as department chairs who reported to Peter, his colleagues at NYU consistently stressed how he exceeded expectations in his leadership of the science program during the past seven years, how particularly pleased they had been by his creativity and imagination, and what a wonderful colleague he is.

I was especially influenced by the impressions of Tom Jackson. Of course, Tom knew Peter when he briefly served in a deanship reporting to Dick Aslin, who then was Dean of the Faculty for The College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, and Tom became reacquainted with Peter when he chaired the NYU reaccreditation process in mid-2004. He shared with me how impressed he had been by the growth in Peter's leadership skills and by the universal respect his colleagues had for him.

At NYU, to put it simply, Peter came into his own as a great academic leader. There he deserves credit for fostering collaborations both among the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and between Arts and Sciences faculty and those within other schools such as medicine, mathematics, and computer sciences. He has seized the opportunities presented by NYU's "Partners Program" to recruit top-tier science faculty to strengthen NYU's teaching and research programs.

We are privileged that he will be returning to Rochester as Dean. His challenges here are simple to articulate. We must accelerate the College's progress toward academic excellence while addressing fiscal issues that have persisted too long. As I have urged when we have discussed strategic planning, this should be a period of bold leadership, of creative solutions where everything is on the table.

To the Search Committee, Peter was the right person for the job at this time. I cannot overstate how strongly I share that opinion. In my conversations with Peter, I have been impressed by his honesty, his decency, his commitment to academic excellence, and his thoughtfulness in analyzing the many issues that we have presented.

I want particularly to thank the Search Committee. In addition to Elissa, the Committee included 12 faculty representatives from humanities, social sciences, sciences, and engineering:

  • Assistant Professor of Clinical and Social Psychology, Loisa Bennetto;
  • Marshall D. Gates, Jr. Professor and Chair of Chemistry, Robert Boeckman, Jr.;
  • Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science, Gerald Gamm;
  • Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Wendi Heinzelman;
  • Professor of Religion and Classics, Emil Homerin;
  • Professor and Director of The Institute of Optics, Wayne Knox;
  • Gideon Webster Burbank Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy, Henry Kyburg, Jr.;
  • Associate Professor of Linguistics, Jeffrey Runner;
  • Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Paul Tipton;
  • Associate Professor of English Jeffrey Tucker; and
  • Professor and Chair of Biomedical Engineering Richard Waugh.

The Committee was assisted by Jerry Baker from the search firm of Baker, Parker and Associates. This group led a rigorous search in which high-caliber candidates were considered—from inside and outside of Rochester. It was a search in which the Committee was absolutely determined to find the best possible individual, and literally kept working up until the point that they had put together a list of stellar finalists. I am deeply indebted to Elissa and her colleagues for their extraordinary work, as well as to Matthew Goldblatt and Matthew Platt who respectively chaired committees of undergraduate and graduate students who aided the search process. Let me thank each of them for strengthening our College.

I also want to praise Joanna Olmsted for serving as Acting Dean for the last several months, and for continuing in this role until Peter takes the reigns on July 1st. Joanna has provided the stability and leadership to the College that enabled the Search Committee to conduct such a thorough—and successful—search. Joanna, please accept my heartfelt thanks for a job well done.

Peter and Fran, welcome back to Rochester. I cannot think of a better way to embrace the future of this University than with Peter at the helm of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering.