Matthew Santirocco Stepping Down as Dean of the College and Taking on a New Assignment as Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs


DATE: Wednesday, May 11, 2011
FROM: NYU President John Sexton and Provost David McLaughlin
RE: Matthew Santirocco Stepping Down as Dean of the College and Taking on a New Assignment as Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs

We write today with the bittersweet news that Matthew Santirocco has – after 17 years as Seryl Kushner Dean of the College of Arts and Science – decided to step down at the end of this semester. Bitter news because he has been such a superb dean, scholar, teacher, and colleague; sweet because he is doing so to take on a crucial new assignment for NYU.

Though we might have wished for it to be otherwise, we always knew this day would come. Indeed, after the second-longest tenure in the school’s history, Matthew had made clear to us that he had been thinking about a transition: returning full-time to the Classics Department. As it happened, however, Matthew’s wish to step down from the College deanship has coincided with an important University priority that aligns perfectly with his interest and expertise: developing the academic program for NYU Shanghai’s opening in fall 2013.

We are, therefore, delighted that Matthew has agreed to serve as Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs. As dean, Matthew had a long record of engagement in university-wide projects, and now, in his new role, he will head up curriculum development for NYU Shanghai. In addition, he will work with Provost David McLaughlin and Dick Foley, the Vice Chancellor for Strategic Planning, on other projects related to Global Network University-wide educational initiatives and undergraduate academic affairs.

Matthew’s tenure as dean has been truly transformative. First and foremost, there are the changes in the academic qualifications of the College’s student body: during his tenure, applications to CAS almost tripled, from 8,000 to 23,000; SAT scores rose from below 1200 to 1424; and the acceptance rate dropped from 70% in 1991 to a record 24% this spring. These increases in selectivity were all the more remarkable as they were accompanied by a significant growth in the size of the student body.

Of course, the measure of a school’s success is not just the quality of its students but the extent to which they have access to distinguished faculty through academic programs of the highest quality. To that end, Matthew led the faculty in implementing an innovative core curriculum, the Morse Academic Plan. To balance those large classes with small ones, the number of freshman honors seminars was increased from the 10 that were in place when he arrived to 80 next fall; these include 19 Collegiate Seminars that provide four years of faculty mentoring for the students enrolled in them. And to offer upper-year students similar opportunities for intellectual challenge and mentoring, the College created Advanced Honors Seminars, it revamped its Scholars cohort into a College-wide honors program, and it worked closely with departments to enhance and expand the honors tracks available to their majors. Central to all of these efforts was the College’s signature initiative, its Undergraduate Research Program, consisting of a fully endowed Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund (DURF), which has to date awarded almost $1 million in research grants, an annual Undergraduate Research Conference at which hundreds of students from all disciplines participate, and a journal, Inquiry, which showcases original student projects.

Recognizing that the College’s distinctive strength is that it is not free-standing, Matthew also led the way in rethinking the place of the College in the larger university. During his tenure, for example, CAS was strategically positioned at the center of the Global Network University, since fully one third of all the students who participate in semester long study abroad come from this one school. He also partnered with other divisions of the university to create distinctive programs such as cross-school minors, dual degree programs, and non-credit Professional Edge certificates in the “applied liberal arts” (a program which the New York Times called one of the 100 best ideas of the year.) And he worked with departments to take advantage of the unique resources of the city through courses involving work in local archives or in the field, internships, and service-learning.

As the academic profile of the College grew, Matthew recognized a growing need to enhance student support services. Thus, CAS created two Learning Centers to provide free tutoring to all NYU undergraduates; a satellite branch of the University’s Counseling Center was added to the College Office; a Pre-professional Advising Center was created in partnership with the Wasserman Center to customize academic and career advising for liberal arts students; and a program of informal language coaching (NYU Speaking Freely) was created and went on to become one of the most popular extracurricular activities on campus, with 5,000 students participating in it annually.

Finally, none of this would have been possible if Matthew were not also a prodigious fundraiser. Finding no endowment in the College when he arrived, he determined that all programmatic initiatives would be fully funded by the time he stepped down. To that end $135 million was raised during his tenure, not only for research scholarships, but also for financial aid, course enhancements, academic and co-curricular programs, and student life. He also raised the endowment that supports the activities of the Center for Ancient Studies, and he helped to raise money for capital projects, including the renovations which turned Silver Center into a proper home for the College, and the construction of NYU’s new center in Washington, DC, a project which originated in CAS but is now part of our Global Network.

Since Matthew’s responsibilities as Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs will begin this summer, we are delighted to announce that Professor G. Gabrielle Starr, currently Chair of the Department of English, will assume the role of acting Dean of the College. Gabi is a leading scholar of 18th -century British literature. Her current work explores the role of Ovid in the 18th-century revolution in the ancient study of aesthetics. She is also pushing the field of aesthetics into the 21st century through her collaborative work with colleagues in neuroscience on the development of research models that map and describe neural responses to the arts. Gabi is a broadly admired University citizen: she has served her department and the University on various committees and initiatives over the years. She is also deeply committed to excellence in undergraduate education - exemplified by her recognition with a Golden Dozen award for her teaching in the College. We know the College will be in good hands with her as the Acting Dean.

A search committee will be appointed in the fall to look for a new, permanent dean of the College; we will communicate with the FAS community again in the near future with additional information about the search committee.

For all of his enormous achievements, we are grateful to Matthew— and also for his energy and enthusiasm, his embrace of the common enterprise, his generosity as a colleague, and, most especially, his commitment to our students. We look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role, and will plan an event in the fall to celebrate his Deanship in CAS. We ask you to join us in thanking Matthew for his wonderful service as dean, and in welcoming him and Gabi to their new assignments.