Stanford University names engineering dean as new provost

Persis Drell to succeed John Etchemendy

Persis Drell, the first woman to serve as dean of Stanford University's School of Engineering, will now serve as the university's second-ever female provost alongside a brand-new president, the university announced Tuesday.

Drell, whose appointment takes effect Feb. 1, 2017, is replacing longtime provost John Etchemendy, who announced last summer that he would step down along with outgoing president John Hennessy. Etchemendy had been provost since 2000. He was not a candidate for the presidency, Stanford said last summer.

New President Marc Tessier-Lavigne chose Drell, 60, from a pool of "extraordinarily impressive" candidates -- all Stanford faculty members -- who had been reviewed by a search committee of faculty and student representatives chaired by Richard Saller, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, according to an announcement from the university.

In the announcement, Tessier-Lavigne describes Drell as a "bold, visionary, inclusive and collaborative leader" with a "strong moral compass and a direct, transparent style."

"Persis shares my deep commitment to sustaining and strengthening the full breadth of Stanford's excellence, across the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences and professional disciplines," said Tessier-Lavigne, a neuroscientist. "We also are aligned in believing that free expression, diversity and inclusion are fundamental to Stanford's success and are areas that need continued attention and vigilance."

Stanford's provost oversees the academic and budget administration for the university, with the deans of each of Stanford's seven schools and senior administrators in research, student affairs, budget, undergraduate education, graduate education and other areas reporting directly to the provost, the university said in its announcement.

Saller, too, emphasized Drell's commitment to "a broad liberal education for Stanford students and to the strength of Stanford's programs across the board."

"As provost, she will be in a position to continue working to bring together the humanities, arts and social sciences with the natural sciences and engineering," he said in the announcement.

Drell has been on the Stanford faculty since 2002, but her personal roots on the Farm are much deeper. She first came to Stanford as a 6 month old. Her father is professor emeritus Sidney Drell, a physicist, arms control expert and longtime member of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory faculty (of which his daughter would later become director).

Drell obtained a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from Wellesley College in 1977, followed by a doctorate in atomic physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1983. She then switched to high-energy experimental physics and worked as a postdoctoral scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, according to Stanford.

From 1988 to 2002, she taught physics at Cornell University before leaving to serve as professor and director of research at SLAC. There, she worked on the construction of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, among other projects, Stanford noted in its announcement. She rose to SLAC's deputy director in 2005 and became director two years later.

In 2014, she was named dean of the School of Engineering.

"As dean, she catalyzed in 2015 a collaborative school-wide process, known as the SoE Future process, to examine what the engineering school of the future should look like," the announcement states.

She also "placed an emphasis on free expression, diversity and inclusion, focusing both on the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering and on ensuring a welcoming and inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds in the school."

Drell will become Stanford's second female provost, following Condoleeza Rice, who was named to the position in 1993.


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Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Palo Alto Hills

on Nov 8, 2016 at 11:54 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

14 people like this
Posted by Big Mistake
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 8, 2016 at 2:53 pm

What were they thinking? Are these the same people who appointed Condoleeza Rice back in the 90s? This woman is not qualified to be in this position!

7 people like this
Posted by An even bigger mistake
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 10, 2016 at 4:18 am

When Drell is described as "representing emphasis on free expression, diversity and inclusion", this is news to the staff who had to suffer her at SLAC and has to suffer her at Stanford. How many people have already quit the Deans Office?

She was the first Director level appointment at SLAC who had virtually no first class science to name her own when she arrived. She was forced on to SLAC by DoE who rejected 2 slates of 3 candidates for the Director position which did not include her. But then SLAC was told we (the DoE) want a woman and we want a specific woman on the slate.

But she is good to enforce the "business model" of Science.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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