Valentini concludes a ten-year residence as head of Columbia’s undergraduate community and will return to teaching chemistry.

President Bollinger announced via email on Thursday afternoon that James Valentini—or “Deantini”—will be stepping down from his role as Dean and Vice President of Undergraduate Education after the current academic year. He will continue teaching in the Chemistry Department, starting next June. Valentini stated that the position has been “the greatest privilege of [his] professional life,” in emails to students and alumni. All statements are included in full below.

The announcement of Valentini’s departure follows reports in July that he disagreed with several other senior members of the administration over the issue of faculty teaching in person last fall. Several other senior administrators pressured faculty to teach in-person, while Valentini supported delegating the choice to faculty members, cited as the only administrator to support faculty voices.

Valentini’s career at Columbia has spanned across three decades, involving numerous positions. President Bollinger made specific note of Valentini’s time as Chair of the Department of Chemistry from 2005 to 2008, only to be named Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science a year later. Additionally, in his role as Dean and Vice President of Undergraduate Education, Valentini was instrumental in creating a long-term, strategic plan for the college that involved a more innovative curriculum and expanding financial aid, among other initiatives. His Core to the Commencement campaign has raised $670 million since 2015, creating funds to endow 25 professorships and 104 scholarships. 

President Bollinger noted that Valentini will be missed not just for his accomplishments during his tenure as dean, but also for, “the spirit he has brought to the College.” He helped to vastly increase support resources available to students, including leading the JED Foundation task force on student wellness and mental health, which helped lead to the creation of the Live Well | Learn Well project to support student wellness. Valentini also stated that before June, his “top priority is to make this year as good as it can be for our students,” citing that “we all know there is more work to be done.”

It is undetermined if Valentini decided to step down of his own volition.

Bwog has contacted Columbia Communications for comment.

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Email sent from President Bollinger to the Columbia community, sent on Thursday at 12:05 pm:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I’m writing to share that Jim Valentini, after leading Columbia College so ably and with such distinction for a decade, will step down as Dean in June of 2022. We are delighted that Dean Valentini will continue to teach and conduct research as Professor of Chemistry when his responsibilities as Dean and Vice President of Undergraduate Education conclude at the end of this academic year.

Reflecting on the long tenure of a successful and beloved institutional leader is always a bittersweet affair, and that is especially the case here. Jim is a scientist who leads Columbia College with his heart as well as his intellect. Anyone who has worked with Jim for even a short time feels his devotion to the College and his abiding appreciation for its unique and proud history. His public addresses sparkled with familiar phrases and ideas: Columbia College is “the greatest college in the greatest university in the greatest city in the world;” his embrace of the Zen Buddhist state of “beginner’s mind;” and, of course, the delight he has taken in enlightening us all about Columbia Blue. Always, Jim’s stewardship of the College has focused on raising up the students, their families, faculty, alumni, and staff—a community he sees as being in his charge. This sense of responsibility for the wellbeing and future aspirations of thousands of people is something he has embraced and shouldered admirably. When Jim departs as Dean he will be missed as much for the spirit he has brought to the College as for any particular accomplishment, as many and as significant as they are.

The long-term, strategic plan for the College, developed under Jim’s guidance, provides an invaluable template for the future, created with input from faculty, students, staff, and the College’s alumni advisors. The plan focuses on innovative curricular offerings, expanded access through robust financial aid, and celebrating the Core Curriculum, as well as ways to support our world-class faculty. Paired with the strategic plan is the Core to Commencement Campaign, which Jim launched in 2015 to secure the resources needed to fulfill these goals. To date, the campaign has raised nearly $670 million of its $750 million goal. Those funds have endowed 25 professorships and 104 scholarships, made possible rich summer experiences for undergraduates, supported mentoring for faculty, and expanded resources devoted to student wellbeing.

Jim has made a priority of new initiatives designed to enrich the experience of Columbia College students and faculty. My Columbia College Journey is a project encouraging students to interrogate and share their experiences in service of skill-building and personal growth. The Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights links themes explored in Columbia’s Core Curriculum to contemporary issues concerning civil and political rights. Jim also has been responsible for a vast expansion of student resources beyond the classroom, from global engagement and career development, to his role in leading the JED Foundation task force on student wellness and mental health. The work of the task force resulted, in part, in the creation of Live Well | Learn Well, a project coordinating Columbia’s wealth of supportive resources to enhance the wellness of every Columbia student.

Jim arrived at Columbia more than thirty years ago and was quickly recognized for his thoughtfulness and engaged teaching. He was Chair of the Department of Chemistry from 2005 to 2008, and for three years he was director of the Department’s undergraduate studies program. He has been an active member of the University Senate, contributed significantly to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Diversity Initiatives, and has been Chair of the College Committee on Science Instruction, Chair of the Arts and Sciences Academic Review Committee, a member of the Committee on the Core and the College Committee on Instruction, and faculty representative to the Alumni Association Board. In 2009, Jim was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

A signature of Jim’s time as Dean has been his approachability and his consistent availability to students and colleagues. He has always understood that the people of Columbia College, the students, faculty, staff, and alumni, are responsible for creating the distinctive experience of a Columbia College education. With this insight guiding him, Jim has for ten years been a fundamentally inclusive and wise steward of Columbia’s oldest school.

I am deeply grateful for Jim’s service to this University and we all look forward to celebrating him in the months ahead.


Lee C. Bollinger

Email from Dean Valentini to Columbia College students, sent on Thursday at 1 pm:

Dear [name of student],

Earlier today, President Bollinger announced that 2021-2022 will be my final year as Dean of Columbia College. I am writing to the students of the College to express the profound impact that you, and thousands of students before you, have had on me and the honor it has been to champion undergraduates during this past decade.

My time as dean of the College has been the greatest privilege of my professional life, and the high point of a long journey that started when I was just a shy and unsure boy in a tiny Appalachian coal mining town. The idea that I would someday teach at Columbia, where I arrived more than 30 years ago, was inconceivable to my parents, only one of whom completed high school. And while I went on to teach thousands of undergraduates as a member of the faculty, it was only through my role as dean that I came to fully appreciate how extraordinary the College is and how remarkable our students are. Students are not just the reason the College exists, you are also the animating force behind all that we do. There is no student body like this one, not anywhere in the world. And I look forward to meeting and seeing as many of you as possible over my remaining months as dean.

I will continue to serve as dean until June 2022 and during this time, I will work with College and University staff to oversee this academic year, in all its continued complexities as we manage through this next phase of Covid-19. My top priority is to make this year as good as it can be for our students, and we all know there is more work to be done.

I will also begin preparing the College for a transition that I hope preserves its mission to support and nurture our students, through the curriculum, programs, services, community and values that are central to its 268-year-old identity. That the College thrive long beyond the end of my deanship is my ultimate priority, and it is one shared by countless others who treasure Columbia College, including staff, alumni, and faculty.

While I still have the opportunity, I’ll remind you to approach everything in life, including fall semester–and even this news–with Beginner’s Mind. To learn from others and to reconsider your own ideas. Those are the reasons you’re here. Embrace this opportunity by being open to the endless possibilities.

And, as the year continues, you’ll find me wearing my Pantone 292 – I encourage you to do the same – in the spirit of Columbia College, the school that you help make the greatest college in the greatest university in the greatest city in the world.

Roar, you Columbia College Lions, Roar!


Email from Dean Valentini to Columbia College Alumni, sent on Thursday at 1:02 pm:

Dear [name of alum],

Earlier today, President Bollinger announced that 2021-2022 will be my final year as Dean of Columbia College. I am writing to share this news with you, one of the 54,000 alumni who make up our proud and spirited College community.

Serving as dean of the College has truly been the greatest privilege of my professional life. I went from a boy whose earliest access to reading materials was a library bookmobile that made occasional visits to our little Appalachian town, to a scientist who was offered the dazzling opportunity to lead a top institution of higher learning. More importantly, I have had the honor and joy of interacting with the fantastic people associated with that institution, of whom there are so many.

In my decade as dean, I have encountered students, faculty, alumni, parents and staff who have reminded me of how much I still have to learn, and how many kinds of people there are to learn from. My affection and admiration for people in the College community has grown exponentially every year I’ve served as dean and I am fortunate to now call so many of them my friends and colleagues.

The connection many of us feel to Columbia College is based on our belief that it is an extraordinary environment for young people to grow, learn and discover. I hope that your experience at the College still enriches your life today and that you’ll look for ways to continue to stay involved with the school and our students. I have confidence that the alumni community will help shepherd the College into its next phase, ensuring its success for generations to come.

I will continue to serve as dean through June 2022 and hope to see many of you this year as we celebrate the continuing successes of Columbia College and what its future holds.

Roar, Lion(s), Roar!


Sunset over Butler Library via Bwog Staffer