Ralph W. Kuncl, provost of Bryn Mawr College and a national leader in the neurosciences, will become the University of Rochester's new provost on Aug. 1, President Joel Seligman announced today.
Kuncl succeeds Provost Charles E. Phelps, an eminent health care economist, who is retiring at the end of this academic year after 13 years as the University's chief academic officer. Seligman said Kuncl's broad background as a scientific researcher, teacher, and administrator at distinguished institutions like Bryn Mawr College and Johns Hopkins University made him a superb candidate.
"Ralph understands the unique nature of our work here at the University. He has the experience and breadth to appreciate the full spectrum of programs here, ranging from the sciences, engineering, and medicine to the liberal arts and professional schools. His career, particularly at Bryn Mawr, is testament to his ability to dramatically improve undergraduate education. He also has the dedication and drive to play an important role in moving the University forward," Seligman said.
Kuncl said he was drawn to the University even before the provost position arose, and is excited by the opportunities that await him.
"I look forward to working side by side with Joel Seligman to chart the future course of the University, making it one of the leading research universities in the world," Kuncl said. "Even before the position at Rochester opened, I felt like I already had experiences that gave me an instant attraction and connection to what the place is all about. As a musician, I knew the Eastman School was a gem. From involvement in national associations, I knew of the reformation of the College's curriculum with its cluster approach, the Center for Entrepreneurship, and the strong research profile of the University for its small size among its leading peers. And as a neuroscientist at Hopkins, I was well aware that the Rochester neurology and neuroscience programs were preeminent in the country. I knew the work of many of these colleagues and admired them from afar."
Kuncl follows Phelps, who made significant contributions to the University as a teacher, scholar, and leader over the past 23 years. In partnership with former President Thomas H. Jackson for 11 years and now with Seligman, Phelps has advanced the stature of the University by supporting the recruitment of excellent faculty, enhancing undergraduate education through the Renaissance Plan and reshaping Rochester's curriculum, and by increasing national visibility on issues of significance for higher education such as intellectual property rights and copyright protections for peer-to-peer file sharing.
"Chuck Phelps was a vital partner to Tom Jackson and to me in helping strengthen our academic programs and our Medical Center," Seligman said.
Kuncl achieved distinction as a scientist and an administrator during his long tenure at Johns Hopkins University, where he was a professor of neurology at the School of Medicine from 1983 to 2002. In his last year with the university, he was named Johns Hopkins' 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 experience on campus. The commission's work included everything from recommending the construction of more student-centered facilities to enhancing preparation of graduate teaching assistants to improve teaching. Kuncl has since gone on to national roles in revamping undergraduate education with organizations like The Reinvention Center.
Also during his time at Johns Hopkins, his lab discovered the glutamate transporter defect in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. The discovery changed the field and helped lead to the first effective treatment for the disease.
At Bryn Mawr College, where Kuncl became provost in 2002, he helped create a variety of new interdisciplinary tracks, minors, and majors, including Middle East Studies, Modern Standard Arabic, Geoarcheology, International Studies, and Computer Science. He nearly tripled the institution's federal research grant support, and created a method for reassessing the college's strategic plan as part of a regional re-accreditation.
Kuncl received a bachelor of arts degree from Occidental College in 1970. He went on to earn Ph.D. and M.D. degrees from the University of Chicago.
Kuncl is also an accomplished musician. For 20 years, he performed with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and he recently sang in a televised choral performance that won an Emmy.
William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, said Kuncl will be a tremendous asset to the University of Rochester.
"Ralph Kuncl is an extraordinary individual. He's an internationally renowned biomedical researcher, a dedicated educator, a strong academic leader, and a creative thinker. He's warm, collegial, highly motivated, and energetic, with a particular passion for undergraduate education that was of tremendous value during his time as vice provost at Johns Hopkins," Brody said.
Marlene Ross, director of the American Council on Education Fellows Program, worked with Kuncl when he was a fellow in 2000-2001 and said Rochester is lucky to have him.
"When he began in the ACE Fellows Program, he showed great leadership potential and his experiences since then have validated ACE's decision to select him as an ACE Fellow. An empathetic listener, Dr. Kuncl has terrific interpersonal skills and is very knowledgeable about the challenges confronting higher education as well as potential solutions," Ross said. "He certainly will contribute to improving the educational experience for all students at the University. I consider him to be one of the best ACE Fellows I have worked with during my 17-year tenure as director of the Fellows Program."
Constance Hungerford, provost of Swarthmore College, worked with Kuncl throughout his tenure at Bryn Mawr and said his enthusiasm will be a benefit to the University.
"Ralph Kuncl is an outstanding choice to be Rochester's next provost," she said. "Working with him on shared initiatives for faculty development and the introduction of an Arabic program, I have seen his passion for excellence in undergraduate education."