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September 21, 2011

University names new deans, director

Over the summer, the University announced the appointment of three leadership positions. Margaret Kearney, Independence Foundation Chair in the School of Nursing, is the new vice provost and University dean of graduate studies; David Williams, a leading expert on human vision, has been appointed dean for research in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering; and Xi-Cheng Zhang has been named director of the Institute of Optics.

Margaret Kearney, Dean of Graduate Studies


Kearney is the 14th person to hold the post at Rochester since Charles Hoeing, a professor of Latin, first held it in 1924, one year before the University conferred its first doctoral degree. Kearney succeeds Bruce Jacobs, whose 12 years in the post made him the University’s longest-serving dean of graduate studies.

As dean, Kearney oversees doctoral studies across the University, chairs the University Council on Graduate Studies, and serves as the central administration’s liaison with graduate student organizations. Kearney’s duties include appointing the chair of each doctoral dissertation committee, as well as administration of the Sproull Fellowships for exceptionally qualified doctoral applicants and the Provost’s Fellowships for doctoral applicants that enhance the University’s diversity and inclusiveness.

Provost Ralph Kuncl says the range of work undertaken at a comprehensive research university like Rochester means that graduate education is inevitably decentralized. But that decentralization also can make it difficult to harness economies of scale and assure some consistency in areas that are common, including health benefits, the development of family-friendly policies, and other student support services.

“Providing an environment of consistent support, given the decentralized nature of our programs for graduate students, requires wisdom, innovation, and leadership. I am delighted that someone possessing all of those traits has agreed to serve as our next dean of graduate studies,” Kuncl says.

Kearney, who joined the University in 2005 to head the School of Nursing’s PhD program, began her professional career as a maternity nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner. Her early research involved analyzing in-depth interviews with pregnant drug users for her doctoral dissertation at the University of California at San Francisco.

Today, Kearney is a nationally recognized expert in such qualitative research methods—naturalistic approaches to the study of behavior and communication, often involving systematic analysis of open-ended interviews and observations.

David Williams, Dean for Research


Williams, the William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics and director of the Center for Visual Science, has pioneered new technologies that are improving the eyesight of people around the globe, from the legally blind to those with 20/20 vision.

“David is a scientist of great distinction whose expertise straddles the biological and physical sciences,” says Peter Lennie, senior vice president and the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences and Engineering. “His work has led to fundamental advances in our understanding of human vision and is also of great practical importance. David has an unusually deep understanding of scientific innovation and intellectual property, of the central place of research in the University, and personal experience in bringing the benefits of scientific discoveries to the public—all powerful attributes of a dean for research.”

Williams succeeds Paul Slattery, a professor of physics, who has overseen research programs in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering since 1998. During Slattery’s tenure, total research funding more than doubled, to $135 million in 2010.

As dean, Williams is responsible for helping faculty discover new opportunities for research collaboration and for funding. “The needs of faculty are as diverse as the disciplines they represent, but they share a common goal of increasing their capacity to generate new ideas and ways of understanding the world and the people who inhabit it,” says Williams. His goal is to help faculty excel in their scholarly endeavors to discover and communicate knowledge.

Partnerships with industry are a priority for the new dean.

Williams is the author of more than 100 papers, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and recipient of the Friedenwald Award from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, among other honors. He joined the University in 1981 after earning a doctorate in psychology in 1979 from the University of California at San Diego.

Xi-Cheng Zhang, Institute of Optics Director


Zhang succeeds Wayne Knox, who stepped down after 10 years to become associate dean of education and new initiatives at the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Zhang is currently director of the Center for Terahertz Research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he also serves as acting head of the Department of Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy. Researchers at the center work in the terahertz portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to create new imaging and sensing technologies that are used in such areas as biomedical imaging and microelectronics.

“The director’s position provides me the platform to work together with the best team to make a global impact in optics and photonics,” says Zhang. “It’s my vision that Rochester’s Institute of Optics will continue to excel in research and education in a challenging climate.”

“Xi-Cheng Zhang is an internationally recognized scientist in the field of optics who appreciates the great tradition of our institute, and we very much look forward to the scientific and administrative leadership that he will bring to the institute,” says Rob Clark, dean of the Hajim School. “He will undoubtedly build upon the great work of Wayne Knox, who has been instrumental in numerous initiatives, such as establishing the Hopkins Center, the new undergraduate program in optical engineering, and efforts to advance the newly constructed Goergen Hall for Biomedical Engineering and Optics.”

In addition to receiving numerous honors throughout his career, Zhang has been awarded 26 U.S. patents. He has authored or coauthored 19 books, and has written more than 350 scientific papers. Zhang earned both his PhD and master’s degrees in physics at Brown University.

Zhang will start his new role Jan. 1.

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