President Bollinger announced that Columbia University Provost Mary Boyce will step down on June 30, 2023, but will remain at Columbia as a member of the Engineering faculty.
This afternoon, President Bollinger informed the Columbia University community that Provost Mary Boyce will be stepping down from her role on June 30. According to the email sent by President Bollinger to students, Boyce plans to return to research and teaching as a member of the Columbia Engineering faculty. The full text of President Bollinger’s email to students can be found below.
This announcement follows other notable administrative appointment changes in the 2022–2023 school year. In April 2022, President Bollinger announced his resignation as Columbia University President, effective June 30, 2023. In July 2022, Barnard College President Sian Leah Beilock announced that she too would leave the college at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. Dean of Columbia University’s School of the Arts Carol Becker also plans to step down in June.
As Columbia University Provost, Boyce has served as Columbia’s chief academic officer, directing the development and implementation of academic plans and policies, managing faculty appointments and the tenure review process, and aiding the CFO in overseeing school and university budgets. Prior to her role as Provost, Boyce served as Dean of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and as a Professor of Engineering from 2013-2021.
In his email, President Bollinger noted Boyce’s many accomplishments as Provost, including helping lead Columbia through the COVID-19 pandemic, her focus on building “interdisciplinary bridges across schools, in developing programs to support new approaches to teaching and pedagogy, and on accelerating the recruitment of faculty from historically underrepresented groups.” Boyce also oversaw Columbia’s launch of the Common Data Set Initiative.
Information regarding Boyce’s successor has yet to be released. President Bollinger has noted that plans regarding the Provost position will be shared as they take shape.
Email from President Bollinger to Columbia students on April 6, 2023:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
I write to share that Mary C. Boyce will step down from her role as Provost on June 30, 2023, capping off a decade of masterful service to Columbia in the highest levels of University leadership. I am very happy to announce that she will return to teaching and research full time as a member of the Columbia Engineering faculty.
Mary’s tenure as the chief academic officer of this institution saw the University through some of the most gratifying achievements and complex challenges in its recent history.
As Provost, she helped lead Columbia out of the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, presiding over the return of all students, faculty, and staff to campus in the fall of 2021. Tenaciously, she worked to ensure that we maintained our standards of academic excellence while keeping everyone safe and deepening our shared resilience and empathy.
As she does with every assignment, Mary has brought great dedication and energy to her work as Provost. She focused on building interdisciplinary bridges across schools, in developing programs to support new approaches to teaching and pedagogy, and on accelerating the recruitment of faculty from historically underrepresented groups.
She also brought unprecedented transparency to our admissions process through the launch of Columbia’s Common Data Set Initiative, with its mission to provide comprehensive and independently verified information to prospective students and their parents. She steered what had been a years-long graduate student unionization process to a successful conclusion, and helped us welcome record numbers of new deans.
Mary’s accomplishments as Provost built upon her eight years of leadership as Dean of Columbia Engineering. There, she recruited a wide array of gifted faculty and oversaw the renovation and expansion of classroom and laboratory spaces across the school. She led impressive fundraising efforts, expanded access to students and faculty from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM, and created educational programs and initiatives focused on entrepreneurship, innovation, and design. Mary was known for prioritizing the growth of collaborative and interdisciplinary efforts to confront global challenges facing society through basic research and real-world implementation. Perhaps most famously, she helped lead a group of scientists from Columbia and Cornell University in designing a reconstruction plan for the L train that avoided closing the line, which had been significantly damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
All that Mary has achieved is grounded in the depth and breadth of her talents as a scholar and scientist. A mechanical engineer who works in nanotechnology and materials research, she has focused on the behaviors of soft polymers and composites. Her groundbreaking contributions include creating new modeling methods for the use of engineers in designing planes, transportation vehicles, and biomedical devices, among others. Her impact as a mentor and scholar is also visible through the doctoral students and postdocs from her group holding faculty positions across the country and around the world. In 2020, she was awarded the Timoshenko Medal, the highest honor accorded by the Applied Mechanics Division of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, of which she is a fellow. She has also been elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Before coming to Columbia, Mary was on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for more than 25 years, including as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
We celebrate Mary for her leadership, for her scholarship and teaching, and for her perfect collegiality. She has left an indelible mark on this institution and helped secure its future for generations to come. I am personally grateful to her for her unwavering commitment to academic excellence and to serving Columbia. Plans will be shared for her successor as they take shape. For this moment, however, we all join in thanking her for all she has done for every member and part of our community.
Lee C. Bollinger
Low Library via Bwog Archives
@CU Alum There’s probably a lot more to this story, since Provost Boyce is breaking with at least three long-standing conventions:
(1) It’s very unusual for a provost to step down after just two years in that position.
(2) It’s also unusual to change provosts and presidents at the same time; the provost will usually serve at least through the following year for the sake of continuity.
(3) Senior admins typically announce their resignations at least six months ahead of time so that the university can find a successor (at least temporarily) in the meantime.
Admins sometimes leave unexpectedly due to health problems or for other personal reasons, but I see no indication that this is what’s happening. Maybe President Shafik has someone else in mind for the job, and asked Boyce to leave for reasons that are not specifically about her. Perhaps Shafik and Boyce simply don’t think they would work well together. Whatever the reason may be, it seems worth looking into.
@Alum I think also a big reason is the drop in US News ranking. Her office was personally involved in submitting and overseeing the data. They gave misleading data in 2022, then completely missed deadlines in 2023 which caused Columbia to fall for lack of data submission. This was costly to the school’s reputation which completely falls on her.
@Different Alum Have to wonder if Bollinger leaving not too long after the US News and World scandal was him seeing the writing on the wall about that. Honestly still kinda shocked the university hasn’t taken a bigger hit. Basically for what a decade plus the university submitted false data which clearly enriched certain individuals. Seems almost criminal to me.
@CU Alum Not likely. Bollinger has been president for 21 years, which is a remarkably long time. He was going to step down a year or two ago when his prior contract ran out, but agreed during the pandemic to stay on for the sake of stability. The earlier departure date was planned long before the US News story came to light.
@Alum Well, all these schools give misleading data. The difference is Columbia was caught. Do you really think Harvard or Stanford have smaller class sizes or more PhDs teaching than Columbia?
@Michael Thaddeus People often make this claim — oh, everyone does it. Such claims would be more convincing if they were supported by evidence. If you think Harvard or Stanford is misrepresenting its class sizes, then you’re welcome to go and investigate the matter.
I presented extensive evidence that Columbia did indeed misrepresent, not only its class sizes and number of faculty with terminal degrees, but several other important parameters as well. Its self-presentation was egregious and extreme, not just typical of an elite university. For example, Columbia reported to the Federal government that it spent more money on instruction in 2019-20 than Harvard, Yale, and Princeton put together. In this case, it makes no sense to claim that everyone is doing it.
@Anonymous Please have your collegues look into these other schools data. I know from other students Harvard and Stanford generally have much larger class sizes. Many classes are taught by TA’s and grad students. Freshman classes are generally very large lectures. They also have law schools with all JD’s that apparently are not “terminal degrees” by US News. Columbia had to subtract these. Did the other schools?
@Anonymous I appreciate you looking into this. However only exposing and examining Columbia is dishonest and incomplete, and very misleading. This is especially true for something like rankings where everyone must be under the same microscope. As a mathematician, presenting only one set of data is egregious and false. Testing one Olympic athlete does not tell me anything about cheating. You should look at the top twenty schools, then post some conclusions. Many schools (Harvard was one in the past, don’t know about now) that does not include athletes, waitlist or even some special admits in their data. Until then, no conclusions can be drawn.
@CU Alum This is like saying your score on an exam is dishonest and incomplete unless everyone else took the same test. Data on everyone else might be useful, but (a) your prof isn’t personally responsible for obtaining it, and (b) it would not affect your own score.
Prof. Thaddeus has never claimed either that he knows how reliable the data from other schools might be or that he has tried to find out. What’s more, his efforts surely prompted similar scrutiny elsewhere even though he’s not the one who performed it.
@CU Alum That info came to light just over a year ago, when Boyce had been provost for less than nine months. She had failed to recognize the problem, but she didn’t cause it. It doesn’t seem like reason enough to oust her. And if it was the reason, the announcement likely would have been made long before now.
@Anonymous The last time an engineering dean became provost was Likins, who insisted the job be split in three. Before that the duet between provosts deBary and Mintz opened the way for Sovern’s rise. Like Boyce, Feny Pena and George Rupp assumed teaching roles lower than their pre-Columbia appointments. Boyce is stellar and has brought many extraordinary international collaborations to Colmbia.
@CU Alum Most of your comments don’t make much sense:
1. I’m pretty sure the split was the idea of Michael Sovern, who had just become president after a short stint as provost. A prospective provost who didn’t want to do the whole job wouldn’t be able to force a split; he would instead be passed over in favor of someone else.
2. Mintz became acting provost when de Bary stepped down. There was no “duet.” And the resignation of one provost is always what opens the way for the next one.
3. Feniosky Pena-Mora (former dean of SEAS) was pushed out due to poor performance. It’s natural that CU didn’t give him another high-level admin job afterwards.
4. George Rupp (former president) stepped down after 9 years, which is longer than most university presidents stay in the job. Former presidents almost always resume teaching full-time, which is what Rupp was going to do until he was hired as president of the International Rescue Committee.
5. I agree that Boyce did a terrific job, at least as Dean of SEAS. It’s too soon to judge her work as provost; she seemed to be doing a fine job there as well, but we’re not privy to all the relevant info. That’s part of why I my original comment says there is probably more to the story.