March 2, 2004

Earl Lewis named Emory provost

By Michael Terrazas

Emory's next provost and executive vice president for academic affairs will be Earl Lewis, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and vice provost for academic affairs/graduate studies at the University of Michigan. Lewis, who will arrive July 1, was confirmed by the Board of Trustees after being nominated by President Jim Wagner on March 2.

One of four finalists identified over a six-month search, Lewis emerged as the top candidate following campus visits by all the finalists in late January and early February. He is Emory's first permanent provost since the departure of Rebecca Chopp in June 2001.

"It is with great enthusiasm that I nominate Earl Lewis to serve as Emory's next executive vice president for academic affairs and provost," Wagner said. "Owing to his experience in academic administration, his roots in the humanities and his particular experience in graduate education, he will bring a rich portfolio of capabilities that will be a strong complement to those already part of Emory's leadership team."

"I am just thrilled," Lewis said from Ann Arbor, Mich. "I'm thrilled about the opportunity and excited to get down to Atlanta and begin determining what are the biggest priorities facing Emory."

Also Elsa Barkley Brown and Robin D.G. Kelley Collegiate Professor of History and African American and African Studies at Michigan, Lewis becomes Emory's first African American provost and the highest ranking African American administrator in University history. He earned his B.A. in history and psychology magna cum laude from Concordia College (Moorhead, Minn.) in 1978. Lewis went on to earn master's and Ph.D. degrees in history from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and 1984, respectively.

Lewis has served as dean of the Rackham School since 1997 and became vice provost in 1998. He joined the Michigan faculty in 1989 and the next year became director of the school's Center for Afroamerican and African Studies. Lewis also spent four years as assistant professor of Afroamerican studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Earl has terrific experience as a graduate dean, and the graduate school is one area people feel needs to be addressed here in order for Emory to move to the next level," said Ron Gould, Goodrich C. White Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science and a member of the Provost Search Advisory Committee. "He was calm, confident and well prepared. He'd done his homework and knew a lot about us. With his experience, combined with his personality and approach to his work, I think we have found ourselves a very good provost."

"Earl is a seasoned scholar and academic administrator, experienced at a highly energized intellectual institution," said Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration and also a member of the search committee. "The comprehensiveness with which he thinks about the issues facing higher education and institutions like Emory sets him apart from the other candidates. His particular strengths in the graduate realm at one of the top graduate schools in the country was also distinctive."

Indeed, in the public forum held during Lewis' campus visit on Feb. 16, he stressed the importance of graduate education in any university and said the "future of Emory rests on the reputation of strong graduate programs." Lewis identified some steps to strengthen that reputation, including providing increased stipends and health care benefits for graduate students; and recruiting Emory's first and second choices--not the third or fourth--for doctoral students, which will in turn draw the top faculty.

Lewis also revealed that he almost came to Emory as a faculty member 20 years ago but decided on Berkeley instead, though he said he has several colleagues here who formerly were at Michigan. He self-deprecatingly acknowledged he was the "laggard candidate" in Emory's search--Lewis' candidacy was announced publicly some two weeks following that of the other three finalists--but said he hoped the community understood that he needed to "reconcile what was right for me and my family."

Several search committee members said Lewis was worth the wait.

"Believe me, when you've read piles of dossiers, met and discussed them in detail, and then sat for hours interviewing candidate after candidate, you know immediately when you've got a live one," said committee member Martine Watson Brownley, Goodrich C. White Professor of English. "The caliber of Dean Lewis' questions and comments showed not only that he knew the kind of University we are but, equally importantly, that he understood the kind of institution we want to be."

In 2000 Lewis co-edited To Make Our World Anew: A History of African Americans (Oxford University Press), and he also is the author of In Their Own Interests: Race, Class and Power in 20 th Century Norfolk (University of California Press, 1993). Lewis has written more than three dozen essays, articles and reviews, and he co-edited the 11-volume The Young Oxford History of African Americans .

In 2002 Lewis chaired the board of directors for the Council of Graduate Schools, and he has been a member of several editorial boards. His research projects have been funded by the Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon and National Science foundations, among others, and in 1999 he received Michigan's Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award.

"Dr. Lewis is an ideal fit; his collaborative managerial style will mesh perfectly with that of the current administration and will allow students and faculty to play a part in shaping the decisions that will affect them," said senior Euler Bropleh, president of the Student Government Association and the sole student representative on the search committee. "Students want administrators who are willing to listen and take action on their concerns. Dr. Lewis will do this. He also has a warm personality and is full of energy."

Wagner echoed this last sentiment. "In addition to his estimable professional background and capabilities, Earl has a winning and energetic personality," the president said. "His visionary outlook on the future of higher education will enable him to jump in immediately to help lead our strategic planning process and to set priorities for Emory's future advancement. He and his wife, Susan, will be wonderful additions to the Emory family."