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April 20, 2011

Bruce Jacobs stepping down as dean of graduate studies

Bruce Jacobs
Bruce Jacobs says he is most proud of his work representing the University on several national graduate school organizations during his 12-year tenure as dean of graduate studies.

Photos of past Sproull Fellows line one wall of Bruce Jacobs’s office in Carol G. Simon Hall. Jacobs points out a few: Timothy Feddersen, the Hobbs Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at Northwestern University; Jenny Saffran, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin; and Sarah Creel, an assistant professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego.

They represent a small sample, he says, of the University’s success stories—Rochester-trained PhDs who have gone on to join the faculties at some of the nation’s top universities or have made a significant impact outside of academia.

For the past 12 years, Jacobs has made it a priority to highlight the professional successes of Rochester’s graduate students, helping to raise the profile and reputation of the University’s programs and attract top students to Rochester’s graduate programs.

On June 30, Jacobs will step down from his position of vice provost and University dean of graduate studies—a position he’s held for 12 years. He’s the University’s longest-serving dean of graduate studies.

In that role, Jacobs oversees doctoral studies at the University, chairing the University Council on Graduate Studies, overseeing the Sproull Fellows selection process, and serving as the central administration liaison with graduate student organizations.

During his tenure, he has assigned faculty chairs for about 2,000 PhD dissertation defenses, amounting to about a quarter of all defenses in University history.

Jacobs also created an award to honor faculty dissertation chairs for their service.

“It’s been my view that some people who do great service in chairing do not get credit for what they’ve done, and I wanted to introduce that to the graduate operation at the University and give them appropriate credit,” he says.

Jacobs says he is most proud of his work representing the University on several national graduate school organizations. He led the Association of American Universities’ Association of Graduate Schools as president and has been a member of the executive committee of the Graduate Record Examination Board. Jacobs also served as a member of the board of directors of the Council of Graduate Schools.

“What I did was extol the University’s virtues in each of those arenas, and I think a lot of the people I spoke to didn’t know much about the University of Rochester before that,” he says.

“Internally, I’m proud of revitalizing a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment among graduate programs,” he adds.

Much of that pride comes from the creation of a website,, that lists Rochester PhDs and their current faculty positions at top universities.

“I have worked closely with Dean Jacobs and have always admired his enthusiastic marketing of the successes of our PhD graduates as well as his attention to the details of the dissertation process that is so necessary to sustaining the quality and national reputation of our graduate programs,” says Provost Ralph Kuncl.

In addition to his role as dean of graduate studies at the University, Jacobs is a professor of political science. He teaches two courses and is an expert on domestic social policy in the areas of aging and poverty.

Jacobs earned his bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from Harvard University. He joined the University faculty in 1973. He founded the Public Policy Analysis Program in 1975 and served as the program’s director from 1989 to 1996. During the 1980–81 academic year, he was guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. Jacobs also served as director of graduate admissions for the political science department from 1986 to 1989.

Jacobs says his successor will face some of the same challenges as other universities in the move to take a more interdisciplinary approach to research. He cites the establishment of the Provost’s Multidisciplinary Awards in 2008 as one of the efforts taken by the University to promote researchers to come out of their “silos” of research.

Jacobs says he’s also concerned about competition for stipends and about health care coverage for PhD students in the future.

“We have to fight hard to keep our place among the top schools and we can’t rest on our laurels,” Jacobs says. “The best way to fight hard is to be successful for our faculty and our students.”

As for his own future, Jacobs plans to work on two projects during an academic research leave starting this summer. One will focus on updating his earlier study of the PhD pedigrees of faculty in top AAU programs. A second project will examine attrition rates among graduate students, using NRC data sets.

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