Updated Monday, 1:45 a.m.
Provost John Coatsworth announced the formation of a search committee for an engineering school dean on Friday afternoon. Coatsworth will chair the committee, which will consider both internal and external candidates.
In an email to students at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Coatsworth listed the members of the committee, which is composed of eight senior faculty members, two students—including Engineering Student Council president Tim Qin, SEAS ’13—and the chair of the SEAS board of visitors.
“Our goal will be to recommend to him [University President Lee Bollinger] an individual or individuals whom we believe to be exceptionally qualified to lead the School to new heights of success in research, teaching, and service, and thus in reputation,” Coatsworth said in the email.
Civil engineering and earth and environmental engineering professor Feniosky Peña-Mora resigned as SEAS dean in July, after a faculty revolt and an overwhelming vote of no confidence in May left him with few choices but to step down. Former executive vice dean Donald Goldfarb has been serving as interim dean since.
The SEAS committee will begin reviewing candidates in October, although Coatsworth was careful to note that the process will continue as long as is necessary to find the right candidate. Search committee member and civil engineering professor Jacob Fish said that it could be difficult to find a qualified candidate, particularly after the leadership challenges the school has experienced during the last year.
“I don’t know whether there is such a person, or whether such a person would want to come here,” Fish said.
Administrators plan to hold a town hall meeting to give the larger SEAS community an opportunity to voice concerns and questions about the dean search.
“We need somebody who the faculty will respect and I think respect tends to come from, among other things, scholastic accomplishments,” Fish said. “The faculty has to respect the dean and the dean has to be a scholar—and someone with administrative experience as well.”
The job will be open to both internal and external candidates, despite the fact that many faculty members felt Peña-Mora’s limited experience at Columbia—he was hired after six years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—was one of his biggest weaknesses.
Although Fish said he was unable to comment on Coatsworth’s decision to consider external candidates, he said that a candidate’s qualifications for the position should be more important than what institution he or she comes from.
SEAS doctoral candidate Andrew Kang, a committee member and Engineering Graduate Student Council president, agreed. “Whoever it is, internal or external, as soon as they become dean, they’re going to be doing something they never have done before,” he said. “What matters is that that individual has the passion and motivation to really make Columbia Engineering a better place for everyone.”
A search committee this spring for the Columbia College dean considered only internal candidates.
Coatsworth’s email encouraged students to communicate with committee members and submit nominations. Besides Fish, Kang, and Qin, the committee members include applied physics and applied mathematics professor Katayun Barmak; Raymond Daddazio, SEAS BS ’75, MS ’76, Eng.Sc.D. ’82, and chair of the SEAS Board of Visitors; computer science professor Eitan Grinspun; environmental health sciences professor Tomás Guilarte; electrical engineering professor Tony Heinz; chemistry professor David Reichman; earth and environmental engineering professor Peter Schlosser; and biomedical engineering professor Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic.