Search begins for School of Engineering and Applied Sciences dean

Search committee holds first discussion Monday, hopes to find dean by spring

engineering-dean

UB community members said they want a School of Engineering and Applied Sciences dean who is “collaborative” and has previous academic experience.

SEAS is searching for a new dean and the search committee, comprised of 14 professors and faculty members and one graduate student, held its first public meeting Monday to listen to community’s suggestions and questions. The committee, which Interim Provost A. Scott Weber and President Satish Tripathi appointed, is one week into its search for a new dean after Liesl Folks –– dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences for six years –– left on July 26 to become the senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Arizona. 

Three UB community members and five committee members attended the event, where the committee discussed the search timeline, the process and the type of person they are seeking to fill the role. The committee is working with search firm Russell Reynolds Associates and seeking candidates with help from the UB community and others across the country, and hopes to have a new dean by spring 2020. Rajan Batta is serving as interim dean until SEAS fills the role. 

Jean Wactawski-Wende, chair of the search committee and dean of Public Health and Health Professions, said the SEAS dean is one of the most “critical” positions at UB. 

“We would like to have someone who’s a leader in their field, has a strong vision for where the school will go and someone who has excelled in leadership,” Wactawski-Wende said. “We’re looking for a good fit for our university.”

Chunming Qiao, the chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, said he thinks the search is “a lot of work” in such a “short period of time.” He said he expected the process would take at least a year.

“Usually [the candidates] interview with the provost. Usually this would be done after the provost is selected,” Qiao said, referring to UB’s current search for a new provost.

Wactawski-Wende said UB tries to expedite dean searches because candidates who are interested in UB will “likely be looking at other [schools].” UB’s goal is to appoint a new provost by the end of the semester, according to UB Spokesperson John DellaContrada.

Grace Sheckler, a junior environmental engineering student, said she dislikes that there is only one student on the search committee, although she appreciates the opportunities UB is giving for students to aid in the search, such as a SEAS forum Wednesday.

“It’s very important to have student voices in this search because the engineering student body is going to be one of the most impacted groups by this new appointment,” Sheckler said. “And some who will be most impacted, future students, have no say.”

Victor Cassella, a junior mechanical engineering student, said he thinks there should be an undergraduate major on the search committee, since there is only one graduate student.

“If undergraduate students were present on the committee board, we could voice what we desire from the dean,” Cassella said. “For one specific problem, I think it is necessary to change the class order that undergraduate engineering students take. I think it was poorly organized and by fixing the order we take classes can greatly impact many students.”

Wactawski-Wende said she thinks it’s typical for one student to be on a dean search committee.

“Trying to come up with a committee that’s facile enough to work, you can only have so many [members],” Wactawski-Wende said. “Not every [school] is represented, but the committee is diverse enough to represent the university.”

Wactawski-Wende said the committee wants a candidate who will be a “great leader” and will collaborate with the rest of the deans.

Once the committee holds discussions with the UB community, it will gather 12-15 candidates, according to Wactawski-Wende, and hold confidential interviews with them since they may have leadership roles elsewhere. Out of the candidates, SEAS will then invite three to five to campus to meet students, Tripathi and the provost. 

Nicholas Singh, a junior engineering student, said he wants a candidate with not only an academic background, but other knowledge too. Sheckler agrees, saying she thinks it’s important for the dean to have experience in the engineering field, not just academia.

“I want the new dean to have a wide range of experiences that allow for a broad perspective,” Sheckler said. “Engineering can easily become bogged down with a lot of technical work, which is important, but it is important to have a well-rounded view of the field.”

News desk can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com.

ALEXANDRA MOYEN


Alexandra Moyen is a news editor for The Spectrum.

BRITTANY GORNY


Brittany Gorny is the senior news editor.