August 24, 2011 — University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan today named John D. Simon, Duke University's vice provost for academic affairs and a respected scientist, as executive vice president and provost, effective Sept. 1.
For the past six years, Simon, 54, has been responsible for overseeing Duke's strategic planning and for nurturing campus-wide academic initiatives to connect the humanities, social sciences and sciences. Prior to serving as vice provost, he chaired Duke's chemistry department for five years.
Succeeding Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., who stepped down in May, Simon becomes the University's chief academic officer, charged with directing the academic administration of the University's 11 schools, the Library, the Art Museum, three residential colleges, public service activities, numerous University centers, foreign study programs and the advancement of teaching and research.
His appointment concludes the second of two high-profile searches that Sullivan initiated on Aug. 1 of last year, her first day as president. At the time, she announced that finding worthy successors to two of the University's top leaders, who would step down during her inaugural year, was a priority.
In May, she announced the appointment of Michael Strine as executive vice president and chief operating officer, to succeed Leonard W. Sandridge at the conclusion of his 44-year career. By then, the provost search had been under way for four months under the leadership of former Curry School Dean David Breneman, a University Professor who holds joint appointments in the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
Simon's arrival completes Sullivan's senior leadership team.
"In John, we have found the ideal partner to lead the University's highly ranked academic division," Sullivan said. "He brings extraordinary experience, knowledge and understanding of how the academy works through a multi-faceted lens of a teacher, scholar, scientist and administrator."
She said she is grateful for the thoughtful and efficient work of the search committee. "They did an outstanding job," she said.
Sullivan called Simon an accomplished interdisciplinary scholar with broad experience in public and private universities of the first rank – and a proven collaborator and able leader. "He has been successful in leading important, visible and complex initiatives during a period of tremendous growth in research and advances in quality at Duke," she said.
Sullivan's vision, combined with that of Strine, helped to sell Simon on the University.
"The opportunity to be part of a team seeking to enhance the University while at the same time preserving its identity and historic excellence was just too tempting," he said. "The University of Virginia exemplifies what higher education is. But there is much change ahead and the pace will be brisk. It is a time of opportunity in higher education and I am excited to be part of the leadership team at U.Va."
He had never met Sullivan prior to two recent conversations – the second one lasted three hours – but he said he had already sensed a strong connection. Having watched all the videos of her on YouTube, including her April inauguration address, "I felt immediate alignment with what she was saying," he said.
In the end, however, his decision was more emotional than rational. "No other jobs had resonated with me until I stepped foot on the U.Va. Grounds," he said. "I had a comfortable and engaging interview, then I decided to walk the Lawn. I felt I was standing on the ground which, in my view, tells the history of higher education in the United States and exemplifies what many universities should aspire to be."
Looking ahead, he knows that his attention will be focused on the challenges, some financial and some philosophical, that Sullivan has laid out – challenges that must be addressed by all of higher education in America.
The big question, Simon believes, is how to effectively use the allotted resources to define excellence in higher education now and into the future. The answers, he said, will evolve over time and require the engagement of the entire University community.
"If you look at higher education 50 years ago, it was very different from what it is today. And if we look ahead 50 years, we know it will be different again," he said. "For one thing, American society no longer values what we do in the same way it once did. We think of American education as the gold standard. … We think of our research universities as the model the world looks to for fostering innovation and educating our citizens.
"Now there are many outstanding universities all around the world and there will be more. The challenge is to use the resources we have to retain our leadership among those global institutions – and to continue to define the best in higher education."
Not only did Sullivan's vision for the University resonate with him, but also her understanding of the place higher education holds in the world – as well as what he calls the "daunting challenges."
"We must serve society and figure out how the United States keeps the competitive edge. This is an important discussion for our state and our nation," Simon said. "I see President Sullivan as taking a lead in this discussion."
Among Simon's major responsibilities will be:
- Appoint the deans, subject to presidential consent, and oversee their evaluations;
- Work with the deans and directors to maintain excellence and realize the academic aspirations of the individual schools and of the University as a whole;
- Serve as chief personnel officer for academic faculty:
- Manage the University's academic budget, working closely with the president and chief operating officer, including co-sponsoring the effort to implement a new financial model for the University;
- Promote interdisciplinary and innovative approaches to education and research, as well as foster diversity of faculty, students and staff;
- Develop and implement a thoughtful vision for the future of the University and its relationship to other societal, governmental and economic institutions, and to society at large;
- Oversee global academic activities, including foreign study, Semester at Sea, Universitas 21, international exchange of scholars and the promotion of international study;
- Oversee academic planning, building on current strategies for advancing academic programs and efficient resource allocations, and nurturing innovations in all programs; and
- Act in place of the president as necessary.
Simon, who will become the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Chemistry in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, realizes that teaching, which he has always loved and managed to do, will have to be put on the back burner for the next few years.
"Being in the classroom is the biggest thing I'll miss," he said. "As a faculty administrator, teaching keeps you connected to why we do what we do." He said he plans to take on independent study projects with a student or two.
He said he was in awe of the "great tradition" of the Honor System and is looking forward to understanding more about the distinctive qualities of the U.Va. undergraduate experience – including student self-governance – and how it enhances learning.
Prior to joining Duke, Simon spent 12 years working his way through the academic ranks at the University of California, San Diego. He joined the Duke faculty in 1998 and a year later was named chair of the chemistry department. In addition to his role as vice provost and professor of chemistry, Simon also holds appointments in the Duke University Medical Center in biochemistry and ophthalmology.
Simon has authored more than 220 publications and three books. Highlights of his awards include the Presidential Young Investigator, 1985-1990; the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, 1988-1990; and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar, 1990-1995. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society.
He earned his bachelor's degree from Williams College in 1979 and his master's and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1981 and 1983, respectively.
Simon is married to Diane Szaflarski, who teaches chemistry at North Carolina Central University in Durham. They have two teen-age sons.
The family members are enthusiastic collegiate sports fans, attending many events at Duke, including women's volleyball, men's basketball and football. They plan to do the same at U.Va. In fact, Simon said, one of his sons is intent on seeing at least one game in every sport in the coming year.