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May 22, 2007

Remarks by Joel Seligman, President

I am delighted to announce the selection of Ralph W. Kuncl, current Provost and Professor of Biology at Bryn Mawr College and Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania, to be the next Provost of the University of Rochester, effective August 1, 2007.

Ralph succeeds Chuck Phelps, who is retiring at the end of July after 13 years as the University’s chief academic officer.

The Provost is a key member of the University’s senior leadership team. The Provost is the chief academic officer and provides leadership on academic issues, including faculty appointments and tenure, strategic planning, academic budgets and financial planning, and master facilities planning. The Provost functions as the University’s chief research officer, dealing with such areas as conflict of interest in research, human subjects protection, sponsored research, and royalty sharing. The Provost directly supervises key elements of the research infrastructure at the University, including University graduate studies, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, the River Campus Libraries, the Research Subjects Review Board, and University Information Technology. The Provost also oversees faculty diversity initiatives and chairs the new technology transfer and economic development policy committee. The Provost will play a pivotal role in facilitating interschool interdisciplinary activities.

The selection of Ralph Kuncl marks the culmination of a comprehensive national search. From the initiation of the search last fall, I have benefited from the hard work and thoughtful advice of an extraordinary search committee, which I chaired. The members of the search committee were:

  • MARK BOCKO, Professor and Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Professor of Physics & Astronomy and Technology Director for the Center for Future Health
  • BRIAN BRENT, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Chair of the Educational Leadership Program in the Warner School
  • GERALD GAMM, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science and Associate Professor of History
  • BETTE LONDON, Professor of English
  • RICHARD NIEMI, Don Alonzo Watson Professor of Political Science
  • LYNNE ORR, Professor of Physics
  • THOMAS A. PEARSON, M.D., Ph.D., Albert D. Kaiser Professor and Chair, Department of Community & Preventive Medicine, and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Research in the School of Medicine and Dentistry
  • MARIE ROLF, Professor of Theory and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in the Eastman School of Music
  • JAMES B. VANDEMARK, Professor of Double Bass in the Eastman School of Music
  • JOANNA WU, Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Simon School
  • JEROLD L. ZIMMERMAN, Ronald L. Bittner Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Accounting in the Simon School

We were also advised by a Board of Trustees Advisory Committee, which included:

  • SHEILA BLUMSTEIN, Albert D. Mead Professor of Cognitive & Linguistic Sciences, Brown University
  • CATHY E. MINEHAN, President and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston
  • HUGO F. SONNENSCHEIN, Adam Smith Distinguished Service Professor and President Emeritus, University of Chicago
  • G. ROBERT WITMER, JR., Senior Counsel, Nixon Peabody LLP

Provost candidates also met with CHUCK PHELPS, the SENIOR LEADERSHIP TEAM IN THE MEDICAL CENTER, my CABINET, theFACULTY SENATE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, and the PROVOST’S DIRECT REPORTS All of these groups provided valuable insights.

We were immensely aided in the search by JEAN DOWDALL and SANDY WILLIAMS of the Witt-Kiefer Search Consulting Firm.

I owe a special thanks to MELINDA SMITH, Executive Assistant to the Provost, who has provided truly extraordinary staff support throughout this search.

Let me tell you about our new Provost. Ralph W. Kuncl is Provost and Professor of Biology at Bryn Mawr College and Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania.

He has been a national leader in the neurosciences. Before becoming Provost at Bryn Mawr in 2002, he was Professor of Neurology, Pathology, and the Graduate Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine; Director of the Neuromuscular Pathology laboratory; and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Johns Hopkins University. He earned both his Ph.D. and M.D. degrees at the University of Chicago.

Ralph was on the Johns Hopkins faculty for nearly 20 years, where he rose through the ranks to full professor and had consistent, sustained peer-reviewed funding from three separate sections of the NIH (NINDS, NIEHS, NIA), the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and several pharmaceutical firms for wide-ranging work in the fields of muscle biochemistry, HIV-AIDS myopathy, experimental drug development in myasthenia gravis (where he holds a patent), mechanisms of drug-induced toxic myopathies, the pathophysiology of glutamate in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and drug development of growth factors for motor neuron degeneration.

Ralph is probably best known internationally because his laboratory made the discovery of the glutamate transporter defect in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a discovery that changed the field and helped lead to the first and only treatment for that disease. He also discovered the existence and pathophysiology of a disease unknown for 500 years — colchicine myopathy. While at Hopkins he also directed a million-dollar, multi-physician clinical laboratory responsible for neuromuscular pathology and chaired a divisional committee on quality assurance, credentialing, and performance improvement. Within the American Neurological Association, the elected society in his field, he rose to leadership positions in finance and public policy and an editorial position in the world’s premier clinical neuroscience journal.

As a teacher, Ralph has won several awards for excellence, including the Frank Ford Award for outstanding teaching in neurosciences and the University of Chicago Distinguished Service Award in 2002. He has trained numerous postgraduate and undergraduate students who have gone on to named fellowships and research awards themselves. The inaugural volume of the Hopkins philosophy journal, Prometheus, was dedicated to him for his mentoring of undergraduates. As a Fellow of the American Council on Education, he focused his research on how one might best redesign an undergraduate school of arts and sciences that exists within the mission of a strong research university. He also authored a classic study of how the federal government proportionately underinvests in higher education research, as compared to research and development in health and defense. He is a member of the Reinvention Center's National Executive Board.

In his last year at Hopkins Ralph was named that university’s first Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. In that post he created the Commission on Undergraduate Education, which united faculty, administrators, students, alumni, trustees and community members to transform the university's undergraduate agenda. He has since gone on to national roles in revamping undergraduate education with organizations like The Reinvention Center.

At Bryn Mawr, where Ralph became provost in 2002, he helped create a variety of new interdisciplinary tracks, minors, and majors, including a ground-breaking Mellon-funded multi-college collaborative program in Middle East Studies and Modern Standard Arabic, and also in Geoarcheology, International Studies, and Computer Science. He nearly tripled Bryn Mawr’s federal research funding and created a method for reassessing the college's strategic plan as part of a regional re-accreditation.

In addition to his distinguished career in research and administration, Ralph is a musician of some note. For many years he has performed professionally and volunteered with local ensemble groups. From 1986 to 2007, he performed in the Baltimore Choral Arts Society (Tom Hall, Director), one of the most respected professional arts groups in the mid-Atlantic region. The BCAS specializes in historically informed performances of baroque and early classical music and is now in its 41st year of subscription concerts, performing at Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and other venues. The Baltimore Choral Arts Society has four recordings in current release on which Ralph has performed: Christmas with Choral Arts; live recordings of Rachmaninoff and Mozart; and a recording with Dave Brubeck, Gates of Justice, released in 2004.

Ralph is also an amateur pianist who, among other things, played and sang his surprise marital proposal to his wife.

I am delighted that Nancy Kuncl will also be joining the University of Rochester community. Ralph eloquently explained about his wife:

When [I] met Nancy some 7 years ago, she had experienced a previous rewarding career as business manager of a group medical practice but had changed careers to become the highly successful CEO/owner of a multimillion-dollar-a-year catering corporation in Baltimore. Things [we] had in common were the courage to change and the love of life filled with challenges and aspirations. About the same time [I] changed directions from medicine to higher education, Nancy chose to follow her own life's dream to become a nurse. She went to nursing school, graduated with honors, and has become, in [my] estimation, the finest nurse [I have] ever known. Hospice and palliative care nursing are her calling and inspiration, and it is a special delight that these areas comprise a special center for excellence at the University of Rochester. Nancy's patients and their families consider her to be their "angel" and to have had the most important impact of anyone on their care.

Ralph and Nancy each have two grown children and a two-year-old granddaughter who will be making frequent visits to Rochester.

We are delighted to welcome Ralph and Nancy to the University of Rochester.