James J. Valentini, (Permanent) Dean of Columbia College

It’s official: According to this letter from Prezbo, Interim Dean James J. Valentini is the new permanent Dean of Columbia College.

According to the Selection Committee, Deantini is the “ideal candidate for the position of Columbia College Dean” due to “the depth of his understanding of Columbia College,” particularly its finances, administrative structure, and financial aid.

Don’t feel too bad for the other three candidates. They might not be dean, but they are “attractive candidates” with “great potential for assuming leadership roles in the future.”

Here’s the Selection Committee’s letter:

The search committee for the Dean of Columbia College has concluded its work. After considering a long list of nominations and interviewing four candidates over several days, we recommended to President Bollinger that he appoint Interim Dean Jim Valentini to the position. The decision was unanimous and enthusiastically endorsed by all members of the search committee. Jim impressed the committee with the depth of his understanding of Columbia College and the clarity of his thinking about the future of undergraduate education here. His grasp of budgetary process and his familiarity with the institution’s new administrative structures position him well to provide effective leadership at this pivotal moment in the life of the College within the University. We were struck in particular by his appreciation of the contributions of all members of the community – students, alumni, faculty, and administration – in making Columbia College a world-class liberal arts learning environment. Jim is also firmly committed to ensuring that all Columbia College students are able to avail themselves of academic opportunities, regardless of their financial circumstances.

In his nine months as Interim Dean, Jim Valentini has set the highest standards for transparency and integrity in the governance of the College and the Arts and Sciences. He has brought energy and creativity to every task. Finally, he has demonstrated his capacity for compassion and personal engagement with the students on this campus. These qualities make him an ideal candidate for the position of Columbia College Dean.

In the course of conducting interviews, the committee identified other attractive candidates with great potential for assuming leadership roles in the future. We have communicated these findings to President Bollinger as well.

The search committee was composed of faculty, students and alumni to ensure that the perspectives of all groups were represented.


Ruth DeFries
Chair and Denning Family Professor of Sustainable Development, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology

Chris Brown
Professor, Department of History

Bob O’Meally
Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Cathy Popkin
Jesse and George Siegel Professor in the Humanities, Department of Slavic Languages

Tom DiPrete
Giddings Professor of Sociology

Stuart Firestein
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Christia Mercer
Gustav A. Berne Professor of Philosophy

Norma Graham
William B. Ransford Professor of Psychology

Kyra Barry
Alumna (CC ’87), President of the Columbia College Alumni Association

Yale Fergang
Alumnus (CC ’87 EN ’88), Chair of the Columbia College Board of Visitors

J.T. Ramseur
Student (CC ’13), Psychology

Mary Kircher
Student (CC ’13), Economics

Karishma Habbu
Student (CC ’13), President of the Columbia College Student Council

Prezbo’s letter:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I am very pleased to announce that Professor James J. Valentini, interim Dean of the College for the 2011-12 academic year, will officially become Dean of Columbia College and Vice President for Undergraduate Education. Jim’s many notable strengths as a scholar, teacher, administrator, and recognized leader of the College community made him the unanimous selection of an advisory committee that considered several very impressive internal candidates as finalists for the deanship. I fully anticipate that from this group of talented Columbia faculty members will come several future leaders of the University.

The Dean of the College is responsible for advancing Columbia’s almost century-old commitment to the Core Curriculum, strengthening financial aid to ensure access to a Columbia College education regardless of family income, and arming undergraduates with the breadth of knowledge and critical thinking skills needed to thrive in a global society. Over the past year, Jim has succeeded in unifying students, faculty, and alumni of the College in pursuit of these goals through an embracing and inclusive leadership style. His open-door policy creating regular opportunities for students to express their views already has endeared “Deantini” to the undergraduate student body and has energized this central part of the University community.

A Columbia faculty member since 1990, Jim chaired Columbia’s Chemistry Department from 2005 until 2008 and was director of the department’s undergraduate studies program. From 2007 to 2011, he served as director of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. Jim is a decorated scholar who in 2009 was selected by his peers as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was earlier recognized as a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He holds degrees in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, University of Chicago, and University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his PhD, and he completed his postdoctoral work at Harvard. He was a member of the research staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Irvine, before coming to Columbia.

Reflecting his dedication to the intellectual growth of Columbia students, Jim has been deeply engaged for many years in important university administrative initiatives. He was a longtime member of the University Senate, served on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Diversity Initiatives, and has chaired the Arts and Sciences Academic Review Committee and the College Committee on Science Instruction. He also has been a member of the Committee on the Core, the College Committee on Instruction, and the Alumni Association Board. Jim’s background and insights about the pedagogy of scientific study will be a tremendous asset in the continued development of Columbia’s undergraduate science teaching and scholarship.

I am very pleased that there is a broad consensus for Jim Valentini’s continued leadership of the College, and I want to thank all the members of the advisory committee and its chair, Professor Ruth DeFries, for working so diligently and guiding this process to a successful conclusion. I also want to thank Nick Dirks, Executive Vice President for the Arts and Sciences and Dean of the Faculty, for his participation in the selection process.

Columbia is such an extraordinary institution, with momentum on so many fronts, and a potential unmatched by any other university in the world. As Dean and a senior member of the university administration, Jim Valentini will help Columbia to fully realize this potential. Please join me in congratulating him and wishing him well taking on this vital new role in an already exemplary career of academic leadership.


Lee C. Bollinger