George McLendon, chair of Princeton University's chemistry department, has been named by Provost Peter Lange to the position of dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences. He will succeed William Chafe, who is stepping down July 1 to return to teaching and research.
The selection of McLendon marks the first time in decades that this high-ranking position has been filled by an external candidate. Lange said such a decision was intentional, as past deans had often been at the University for a long time and he was looking for someone with a fresh vision and energy.
"Our goal here is to take Duke to the next level in terms of the quality of the educational experience that we provide our undergraduate and graduate students and the level of research that our faculty are able to carry out," Lange said. "George really fit the bill."
Chafe said some of the principal tasks for his successor will be to sustain the University's intellectual trajectory, to improve the diversity of the student body and faculty and to address the ongoing importance of interdisciplinary programs.
Administrators said McLendon was highly qualified to take on these and other challenges, praising his scholarship and his commitment to undergraduate education.
"From my perspective, the efforts to provide a liberal education in a research university continue to be a priority," Dean of Trinity College Robert Thompson said. "We have much more to do to reach our objectives, which are substantial, so I'm delighted that the committee and the provost have chosen someone with that commitment."
McLendon's science background--he is the Russell Wellman Moore professor of chemistry at Princeton as well as department chair--should serve him well at a time when Duke is attempting to strengthen its science facilities and programs. He completes a balanced academic trio with Lange, a political scientist, and President-elect Richard Brodhead, an English scholar.
Dean of Natural Sciences Berndt Mueller said McLendon was "a terrific choice," noting that the sciences at Duke differ from those at McLendon's former university, bringing a modified set of challenges.
"Quite frankly, the science departments at Duke are not of the same quality as those at Princeton," Mueller said. "Much of the strength that we have is not just in departments but cut across disciplines."
McLendon has never served in an administrative capacity except as chair of the Princeton and University of Rochester departments of chemistry, giving him the asset and liability of inexperience.
"It cuts both ways; obviously experience as an administrator can help," Lange said. "But it can also make you a little more conservative, a little more cautious and maybe not think as innovatively as you might when you're coming into an administration for the first time."
McLendon arrived at Princeton in 1995 after spending 19 years at Rochester. A native Texan, he graduated magna cum laude from the University of Texas at El Paso in 1972 and earned his doctorate in 1976 from Texas A&M University.
Although he is the latest in a growing group of senior administrators plucked from Ivy League institutions, McLendon said he understood the desire of many students for Duke not to become "another Ivy."
"There's something uniquely special about Duke," he said in a statement. "It's a lot younger than a place like Princeton, and much more flexible in thinking about what it wants to become."
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