Committee reports 6-month delay in nationwide hunt for new head of research
Dean for Research A.J. Stewart Smith will remain in his current post for an additional six months as the search committee for his replacement will be unable to name a successor by the Jan. 1 deadline.
After Smith announced in April that he would be leaving to serve as vice president of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the University appointed a 10-member faculty committee chaired by molecular biology professor Thomas Shenk to carry out the nationwide search for his successor. The dean for research oversees PPPL and manages the research funding secured by the University.
Smith, the University’s first-ever dean for research, had initially planned to switch roles on Jan. 1, but because the search has not been completed yet, he will not take over until July 1. Smith said it would be more natural for a new dean to take over at the beginning of a new academic year, rather than in the middle of the semester, even if the search committee had chosen a successor earlier than July.
The committee is tasked with identifying several candidates to present before University President Shirley Tilghman, University Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and the University Board of Trustees, who will choose the new dean for research at either the January or April trustees meeting.
Shenk said the delay was minor and the result of the committee members’ busy schedules.
“I don’t think there’s been any particular reason,” Shenk said, explaining the postponement of the original date. “Everyone on the committee has worked hard to make themselves available. The task is to do the job right, not to do it by Jan. 1.”
The committee has searched for candidates both within and outside the University community. Shenk declined to name candidates that the committee had discussed.
“We’re confident that we have identified some truly outstanding candidates,” Shenk said.
Smith, who initially was expected to vacate his position on Jan. 1, said he expected the search to end around Christmas. Though he said he already knew that he would take over at PPPL in July rather than next month, he was not aware the committee had pushed the Jan. 1 date for naming candidates.
“I was really looking forward to the change,” Smith said, referring to his new position at PPPL.
However, he noted the extra time may help facilitate the transition, especially since important leadership positions in the Office of the Dean for Research — with a staff of about 60 — were just finalized in the past two years.
Major restructuring also occurred in 2007, when the Office of Technology Licensing began reporting directly to the dean of research.
“Having another six months for this team finally to operate together will make it a much better team,” Smith said. “That extra few months is good right now.”
Smith expressed interest in helping the next dean for research with the transition.
“I would love to work with the person to bring that person up to speed,” Smith said. “On the other hand, I don’t want to push too hard saying you should have done it this way or that way. I hope we get a really strong person who has great ideas.”
Smith decided to become vice president of PPPL — a newly-created position — because of his research background in high energy particle physics. As vice president, he will focus on obtaining funding for the laboratory, assisting with collaboration between the PPPL and University researchers and communicating with the U.S. Department of Energy.
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