The Lehigh University Board of Trustees today announced the appointment of John D. Simon, executive vice president and provost at the University of Virginia, as Lehigh’s 14th president. He will assume the presidency on July 1, 2015.
The appointment of Simon, an internationally renowned chemist and widely respected leader in higher education, culminates a comprehensive and wide-ranging search process that began following the announcement in January that former president Alice P. Gast had accepted the presidency of Imperial College London.
“Lehigh is an exceptional university with an outstanding reputation, and I am humbled and honored to have been selected as its next president,” Simon said. Familiar with Lehigh’s reputation for excellence before the search process began, his already positive impressions of the university only grew stronger throughout the search process, as he came to learn more about the university’s strengths — its excellence in teaching and research, its interdisciplinary approach and the close ties between its four colleges, its exemplary record of student outcomes, its expanding global reach, and its strong role in the community.
“Having had the opportunity to visit Lehigh’s campus and learn more about its remarkable history and unique strengths during the search process, I have begun to understand what a truly special place this is,” Simon said. “I know that Lehigh is deeply committed to advancing knowledge and understanding and in the practical application of that knowledge. I look forward to working with leaders across the university to support the individual and collective objectives of the four colleges and the various disciplines and to contribute to this great community of scholars.”
Brad Eric Scheler ’74, P ’05, P’08, PG ’09, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, said Simon’s record of success as a visionary leader in higher education makes him an ideal choice to lead Lehigh. Speaking of Simon’s accomplishments in his current position at the University of Virginia and in his previous role as vice provost of academic affairs at Duke University, Scheler said Simon distinguished himself by seizing on his leadership roles to crystalize a vision for these institutions, build consensus around key strategic initiatives and successfully implement plans to advance these universities.
“I could not be more proud that John Simon will become Lehigh’s 14th president,” Scheler said. “He has achieved at the highest levels as a scholar, as an administrator, and as a dynamic leader in higher education, and his record of success speaks for itself. Having had the pleasure of getting to know John during the search process, and having spoken with him at length about his vision for Lehigh, I have no doubt that he is the right choice to lead this university as we begin to celebrate our 150-year history.”
Simon is married to Diane Szaflarski, an associate professor in Virginia’s School of Nursing, who will serve as a professor of practice at Lehigh. John and Diane have two sons.
Simon has served in his current role at the University of Virginia since 2011. As executive vice president and provost, he is responsible for the academic administration of each of the university’s eleven colleges, as well as its library system, art museums, public service activities and foreign study programs. In all, Simon oversees the academic activities of 2,200 instructional and research faculty, 14,500 undergraduate students and 6,500 graduate students, and manages a budget of $1.4 billion.
During his tenure at Virginia, Simon spearheaded a number of global initiatives, including the establishment of a new major in global studies and the opening of a physical presence for the university in Asia. He played a leading role in the launch of the University of Virginia’s cutting-edge Data Science Institute as well as its Advanced Research Institute, and in creating the university’s Endowment for the Arts. He also appointed several of the University of Virginia’s deans and oversaw the hiring of several hundred faculty.
Describing Simon as a talented scientist and administrator who has earned widespread respect and admiration, Teresa A. Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, said: “John has an abiding commitment to academic excellence. Working in close collaboration with the faculty, staff, students and academic leadership, his support of our mission of teaching, research, patient care and service has positioned the university for even greater success. We are extremely grateful for his leadership and contributions, and we wish him the very best as he assumes the presidency at Lehigh University. He and Diane will be missed.”
George Keith Martin, rector of the University of Virginia, was equally effusive in his praise of Simon.
“It comes as no surprise that Lehigh would want someone of John’s character and talent at the helm of the institution,” Martin said. “Over the past three years, the Board of Visitors has relied on John’s knowledge and expertise as we have worked with the administration to advance excellence at this great institution. His stewardship of the academic enterprise has been nothing short of tremendous, and we are truly indebted to him for his extraordinary service.”
Prior to his arrival at the University of Virginia, Simon served as vice provost of academic affairs at Duke University from 2005 to 2011. During his time at Duke, he guided the university’s strategic planning process and drove initiatives aimed at connecting the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. He was chairman of Duke’s department of chemistry from 1999-2004, and also held appointments in the Duke University Medical Center in both biochemistry and ophthalmology.
Simon received his B.A. in Chemistry from Williams College in 1979 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1983. After a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, he joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California-San Diego in 1985, and then moved to Duke University as the George B. Geller Professor in 1998.
Simon’s research interests for the past decade have been focused on understanding the structure and function of human pigmentation. Most recently, he has been collaborating with scientists from around the world to study the only known intact pigments recovered from the Jurassic period.
Simon has been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards for his scientific work, including the Presidential Young Investigator Award, Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar Award, and the Fresenius Award. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society, and has authored or co-authored nearly 250 academic papers and four books.
Kevin L. Clayton ’84, P ’13, Interim President, and Board of Trustees vice chair Jane Jamieson ’75, served as co-chairs of the Presidential Search Committee. The search committee was comprised of trustees, administrators, faculty, and undergraduate and graduate students. At the start of the search process, the committee sought feedback from the campus community and alumni. Five well-attended town hall meetings were held on campus, and faculty, staff, and students contributed ideas on qualities they would like to see in a new president. Alumni and others also had the opportunity to offer suggestions through the presidential search website.
At the conclusion of the process, Clayton said, Simon stood out as the ideal candidate to lead Lehigh.
“Our goal from the start of the search process was to identify a candidate who would step onto campus with an understanding of what makes Lehigh great, how Lehigh can be better, and how everyone in the university community can contribute to its success going forward,” Clayton said. “We believe strongly we have found that unique individual in John Simon.”
Jamieson described Simon as a leader who is willing to take principled stands on critical issues and who is able to collaboratively design solutions to the pressing challenges facing higher education.
“John Simon is a brilliant academic, an accomplished administrator and a keen observer of the changing times in higher education,” she said. “He understands that great universities must always be willing to adapt and change in order to make the greatest impact possible.”
Simon said he was struck by the passion for the university that he encountered in those he met throughout the search process.
“There is a sense of great pride about what Lehigh is today, and also tremendous energy and enthusiasm about the possibilities for this university,” he said. “Higher education faces many challenges, but the sense of optimism about the future for Lehigh was a large part of what attracted me to Lehigh. I firmly believe Lehigh has the strengths and assets necessary to continue its impressive evolution into one of the nation’s most important institutions of higher education. I look forward to working with Lehigh’s faculty, students, staff, and alumni to build on this longstanding tradition of excellence.”