April 24, 2008 – Meredith Jung-En Woo, a well-known expert on international political economy and East Asian politics, will become dean of the University of Virginia's College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences on June 1. Woo currently serves as associate dean for social sciences in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts and as a professor of political science at the University of Michigan.
University President John T. Casteen III, who made the announcement today at a gathering of Arts & Sciences faculty and staff, praised Woo as a "remarkably accomplished teacher, scholar and fundraiser who will provide strong leadership for the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as it looks to improve its standing in the sciences, while at the same time expanding and enriching the College's programs in the fine and performing arts."
Casteen noted that Woo, a native of Seoul, has a deep understanding of global issues that will serve her well as she also leads the College in building international programs. "As dean, Meredith Woo will be charged with implementing a number of the key recommendations from the Commission on the Future of the University," Casteen said. "I am confident that she is the right College dean at the right time in the history of our University."
Woo, a prolific writer and researcher, said she is looking forward to the challenges that Casteen and Dr. Arthur Garson, executive vice president and provost, have laid out for her. "Maintaining scholarly excellence in the current economic climate is a formidable challenge that requires vigilance in recruitment, retention and faculty morale – and of course, augmentation of existing resources," she said.
Garson had high praise both for the work of the search committee and for Woo. "Committee members did a phenomenal job identifying and helping to recruit an individual who has already made a study of what is wonderful about the University and where we need to continue to aspire," he said. "Meredith Woo is a visionary with her feet well planted in reality — a rare combination."
In explaining her decision to join the University, Woo said, "The University of Virginia is unique among institutions of higher education. It combines the goals and purposes of a public university while maintaining the highest excellence in research and scholarship — and it does so without compromising the quality of undergraduate education. I think that in a great public university, two of the three may be combined, but rarely all three."
Woo, 49, began her tenure at Michigan in 2001 as a professor of political science. Prior to that she taught at Northwestern University, where she helped rebuild the department of political science, and co-founded the Center for International and Comparative Studies. She also taught at Colgate University and Columbia University.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton appointed her to serve on the Presidential Commission on U.S.-Pacific Trade and Investment Policy. She has consulted for the World Bank, the United States Trade Representative, Asian Development Bank Institute, the Asia Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.
Woo also has authored and edited seven books, published mostly under the name Meredith Woo-Cumings. They include her first book, "Race to the Swift: State and Finance in Korean Industrialization" (Columbia University Press, 1991), and "Past as Prelude: History in the Making of the New World Order" (Westview Press, 1991.) Her most recent book, "Neoliberalism and Reform in East Asia," published in September 2007, was the result of a project sponsored by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development and the Rockefeller Foundation.
She is especially proud of her role as executive producer of a documentary film, "Koryosaram, The Unreliable People," chronicling Stalin's ethnic cleansing of Koreans during the Great Terror. The film premiered at the Smithsonian in 2006 and last year was awarded best documentary by the National Film Board of Canada at the 2007 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.
Educated in Seoul and Tokyo through high school, Woo came to the United States in 1976 and graduated magna cum laude from Bowdoin College, majoring in English literature and history (1980). She received M.A. degrees in international affairs (1982) and Latin American studies (1984), and a Ph.D. in political science (1988), all from Columbia University.
Woo said that when she arrived in the United States as a young student, the idea that she might one day be a leader at one of the nation's top universities would have been an idle dream. "Thirty years ago, I was one of the few foreign students — and the first Asian woman — to enroll at a small liberal arts college in Maine; today, foreign students are ubiquitous on American campuses," she said.
"Jefferson's idea of an 'empire of liberty' now encompasses the full diversity of humanity coming through the gates of our great universities, and this is still America's greatest strength — open arms to the great abroad, instilling ideas of liberty and equality at home through the best educational system in the world. The University of Virginia realizes his dream of a contentious and productive pluralism set in a lovely pastoral setting, and can only grow and prosper as the new century unfolds. I am deeply honored to be coming to the University."
Woo is married to Bruce Cumings, who chairs the history department at the University of Chicago. They have two children: Ian, 18, a freshman at the University of Chicago; and Ben, 14, who plans to attend Charlottesville High School.
The College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the largest of the University of Virginia's 10 schools, offers more than 50 undergraduate majors and concentrations and more than two dozen graduate programs. The College and Graduate School comprise more than 11,500 students and more than 750 faculty members.
As dean, Woo succeeds historian Edward L. Ayers, who became president of the University of Richmond in 2007, and interim dean Karen Ryan, a professor of Russian language and literature.