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August 29, 1996

Koehler to resign as dean of FAS in two years

Peter F. M. Koehler will resign as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in 1998 to become a full-time, tenured professor in physics and astronomy.

Koehler, 58, said he determined the timing of his resignation, as well as details of his future as a teacher and researcher here, during an Aug. 22 meeting with Provost James Maher.

The dean said he will take a sabbatical during the 1998-99 academic year to prepare his courses and catch up on developments in his research specialty of particle physics.

Both Koehler and Maher said the resignation was unrelated to a recent evaluation of the dean's job performance. As part of the review, a fact-finding committee of FAS professors solicited opinions of Koehler from faculty, deans and others who have worked with him.

While the fact-finding committee's report was largely positive, it cited a number of criticisms of Koehler. See story on this page.

The dean announced his planned resignation to FAS faculty in an Aug. 27 memo. In the memo, Koehler noted that Pitt's senior administration granted him a five-year appointment when he became dean in 1986. In 1991, then-Provost Donald Henderson extended the appointment for another five years.

"Hiking in the Rocky Mountains earlier this month gave me the opportunity to think about the other things I still want to accomplish during the remainder of my professional life; I concluded that I could not hope to achieve those other goals if I continued in this administrative capacity too much longer," Koehler wrote.

He and Maher agreed that Koehler would remain as dean for another two years — but not beyond summer 1998 — to oversee implementation of FAS's long-range plan and restructuring of the arts and sciences administration. "The achievement of both of these goals will also be critical to the successful recruitment of the next arts and sciences dean," Koehler wrote. "Announcing my plans now should provide sufficient time to conduct the search for my successor and assure a smooth transition." Koehler added that he has "particularly enjoyed, both on a professional and personal level, the associations I have had with many of my faculty colleagues. Together we have made the arts and sciences a stronger and more vital academic unit within the University, despite the many challenges we have faced. I believe that we are now poised to become even better by building on our strengths.

"I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the many appreciative comments from my faculty colleagues which were passed along to me (anonymously) in the fact-finding report that was prepared as part of my evaluation. It was very gratifying for me to learn that, despite the often difficult times we have faced, so many of you felt that my efforts made a positive difference. Let me also assure you that I am taking steps to address the aspects of my performance which were criticized." Provost Maher, in an Aug. 28 letter to Pitt faculty, said he too was "particularly impressed…by the many positive comments made by faculty colleagues in the fact-finding report. I know that it is gratifying to him [Koehler] to know that he is held in such warm esteem by the faculty of the arts and sciences and that his efforts on their behalf have not gone unappreciated." Also in his letter, Maher thanked Koehler for his willingness to remain as dean for two more years, "by which time we should be able to have a new dean on board. Our success in recruiting an appropriate individual will be significantly enhanced by Dean Koehler's efforts in continuing to strengthen the arts and sciences over the next two years." Maher wrote, "During Dr. Koehler's tenure as dean, his leadership has ensured that the arts and sciences have remained strong and vital and that the quality of its instructional and research programs has been maintained. He has accomplished this despite significant challenges resulting from the lack of availability of adequate resources and sometimes a lack of clarity about University goals.

"I also want to emphasize the contributions Dean Koehler has made to the University at large through his instrumental role in the University Planning and Budgeting Committee. Through his tireless efforts, the success of the Planning and Budgeting System has been significantly enhanced." Maher, a fellow physicist, chaired the committee that recommended Koehler's hiring in 1986. At that time, Pitt administrators — and Koehler himself — said publicly that Koehler's appointment was "a gamble" because he had never been a full-time, professional academician. He came to Pitt following successful tenures as a researcher and administrator at the Argonne National Laboratory (1969-1973) and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (1973-1986), both outside Chicago.

Before coming to Pitt, Koehler's teaching career had been limited to stints as a teaching assistant at George Washington University and the University of Rochester during the 1960s. At Pitt, Koehler taught a freshman physics course for three semesters during the early 1990s. He quit teaching the course, he said, when he took on extra duties as a member of the University Planning and Budgeting Committee.

"So far," Koehler told the University Times, "I have had two careers — a research career at a national laboratory, and a second career as a university administrator. Frankly, the career I have not had is a career as a teacher. That is what I want to focus on after I resign as dean." –Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 1

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