14 Jul UWM accepts resignation of research dean
Milwaukee, Wis. – The resignation of University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee vice chancellor of research Abbas Ourmazd was made official today in a statement released by the university.
UWM Chancellor Carlos E. Santiago accepted the resignation Friday, the university said. Ourmazd, who also served as dean of the UWM Graduate School, will join the UWM faculty as a professor in the Department of Physics.
The university also announced three interim appointments in advance of a formal nationwide search for Ourmazd’s successor. That search will begin this fall.
The announcements cap a week of speculation that began when Ourmazd, citing a lack of support from the chancellor, signaled his intention to resign, but left the door open for a return.
On Friday, the university made it clear that Ourmazd would return but not as vice chancellor of research. “Our university appreciates the contributions made by Dr. Ourmazd,” Santiago said in a statement. “He was an effective member of the administrative team that moved forward our research agenda. I wish him well in his new role in the Department of Physics.”
In the statement, Santiago made no mention of the issues Ourmazd raised, but said the change would not deter UWM from continuing its mission to advance university research. “Building a major research program is always a difficult undertaking,” he stated. “It is much more of a marathon than a sprint, and this marathon can be expected to last several years.”
Citing a lack of support from Santiago, Ourmazd had informed the chancellor of his intention to resign, but did not submit a formal resignation letter. Ourmazd told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that processes and resources were not in alignment with Santiago’s research agenda, a view that is not universally shared inside UWM.
Ourmazd, the first person to serve as vice chancellor of research at the university, left the door open for a return if his concerns could be worked out with the chancellor. Earlier this week, the university confirmed a private conversation between the two men, and Santiago reportedly announced at a gathering of UWM Foundation donors that the resignation had been tendered, but there was no definitive word from the university until Friday.
Santiago has launched the Research Growth Initiative to further develop and commercialize the research developed by university scientists, and Ourmazd was brought on to be the point man.
In a statement, Ourmazd said he came to UWM to help build the research initiative, and that is he pleased by what has been accomplished. He also said that he can best serve the university in the capacity of a contributing member of the faculty and as an active researcher.
“I look forward to working with world-class colleagues in our Department of Physics,” said Ourmazd, who came to UWM from Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs. “I remain convinced of Chancellor Santiago’s vision for UWM and will continue to support him in every possible way.”
A key state lawmaker, however, said it is evident that Ourmazd did not get the support he was expecting. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, called the resignation a setback, but said it could spur action to advance UWM research.
“They have to find ways to get some traction,” Kanavas said, “and make a determination as to where they want to make investments in research and who they want to do that research.”
During his tenure, Ourmazd repeatedly cited the value of commercializing university research in the development of the regional economy. He also touted the quality of research produced by UWM professors, and pressed for facility upgrades to further increase the university’s research output.
University researchers fared well in a recent peer review in which members of the faculty submitted research proposals for independent evaluation. Twenty-two panelists, including representatives from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale, and the University of North Carolina, reviewed 285 UWM innovations. They represented virtually the entire UWM research portfolio, which is estimated to be $50 million.
The university asked the reviewers to determine whether a given proposal was in the top 10 percent nationally in its field, and roughly 25 percent were judged to be in that category. “This is absolutely remarkable,” Ourmazd said recently. “If you went to any world-class institution in the United States, they probably wouldn’t fare much better.”
In an e-mail to WTN News, Dilano Saldin, chairman of the Department of Physics, expressed disappointed with the news of Ourmazd’s resignation. Earlier this week, in an e-mail to Santiago, he indicated that members of his department were distressed to learn Ourmazd might resign.
“Dr. Ourmazd is an outstanding scientist, and I think this gave him a lot of credibility as VC and Dean, particularly among scientists at UWM,” Saldin said. “Personally, I am disappointed he could not stay on in that capacity, and I think many of my colleagues share that view.”
Until a successor is found, the university announced that Gwat-Yong Lie, associate dean of the UWM Graduate School, would be in charge of Graduate School administration. In addition, Mark Harris, associate dean of the Graduate School, would oversee research administration, and Brian Thompson, senior advisor for research at the UWM Foundation, will take over the research department.
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