Barbara Schaal to become next dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences

She succeeds Gary S. Wihl, dean since 2009

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Edward S. Macias, PhD, has announced that Barbara A. Schaal, PhD, the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences and director of the Tyson Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis, will become the university’s next dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, effective Jan. 1, 2013. Schaal is a world-renowned evolutionary plant biologist who is widely recognized for her pioneering research.

Schaal succeeds Gary S. Wihl, the Hortense & Tobias Lewin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, who will be on leave beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

During his tenure, Wihl has played an important role in recruiting key faculty and academic leaders, including the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and the director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics. He also oversaw the redevelopment of Umrath and Cupples II halls.

“Dean Wihl has added outstanding new faculty and has revitalized key facilities for Arts & Sciences, and I am grateful for his contributions as dean,” says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

During his leave, Wihl will work to identify the ways that art museums and academic institutions can collaborate to their mutual advantage and will report to Chancellor Wrighton on his studies in this area.

According to Wrighton, Schaal brings the experience, expertise and passion to the deanship that is essential at this critical moment in the university’s history. Her transition follows three years of faculty-led strategic planning that identified key priorities for the future of Arts & Sciences. As dean, Schaal will work to realize the full promise and potential of that effort.

“This is the right time for Barbara’s leadership,” Wrighton says.

Schaal was on the faculty of the University of Houston and Ohio State University before joining Washington University in 1980 as associate professor in biology. She became a full professor in 1986.

She was among the first plant scientists to use molecular biology-based approaches to understand evolutionary processes in plants, and she has worked to advance understanding of plant molecular systematics and population genetics. Her recent work includes collaborating with students and peers to research the evolutionary genetics of plants in hopes of enriching crops such a cassava — the sixth-most important food crop in the world — and rice.

“Barbara Schaal has been one of Washington University’s most renowned faculty members for years, and I couldn’t be more pleased that she will be assuming a significant leadership role in Arts & Sciences,” says Macias, also the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences. “Her scholarship and teaching are legendary on campus, her leadership through the National Academy of Sciences and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology make her well-known nationwide, and her research makes a difference around the world.

“I have worked with Barbara on several committees and I have continuously relied on her sound judgment and ability to think about the overall picture of the university. She has a way of bringing things into perspective and focusing in on what is important.”

A member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1999, she was elected as the academy’s first woman vice president in 2005. She won re-election to the four-year post in 2009.

President Barack Obama appointed Schaal to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in April 2009. She has been president of the Botanical Society of America and of the Society for the Study of Evolution. In addition to her research and national service, Schaal also has been an active member of the WUSTL community, serving as chair of the biology department from 1993-97.

Since summer 2011, she has directed Tyson Research Center, overseeing operations of the 2,000-acre environmental research station some 20 miles southwest of the Danforth Campus. She has served on numerous WUSTL committees, including the Academic Planning Committee in Arts & Sciences, the Curriculum Implementation Committee and the University Affirmative Action Committee.

“Barbara Schaal is a smart, tough-minded and clear-sighted administrator and educator, able to balance her pathbreaking research in evolutionary plant genetics with leadership roles at the university and the profession at large with amazing grace,” says Lynne Tatlock, PhD, the Hortense & Tobias Lewin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and current chair of the Faculty Council. “I am heartened by her devotion to Washington University’s signature balance of high-quality undergraduate education, strong graduate programs and world-class research.

“I consider it a privilege that in my final semester on the Faculty Council in the spring, I will have the chance to work with her and, thus, have a small part in a great moment in the history of the university when it appoints its first woman dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.”

Born in Berlin, Germany, Schaal grew up in Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in biology in 1969 from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned a master’s degree in 1971 and a doctorate in 1974, both in population biology from Yale University.

She was named the Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts & Sciences in 2001 and the inaugural recipient of the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professorship in 2009.

Schaal has received numerous prestigious awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Key Award from the American Genetics Association and most recently, the American Institute of Biological Sciences Distinguished Scientist Award for 2011-12.

At WUSTL, where she regularly involves undergraduates in her labs and mentors graduate and postdoctoral students, she has received the Founders Day Distinguished Faculty Award, the Arthur Holly Compton Faculty Achievement Award and the Graduate Student Senate Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award.

“I am delighted that Barbara Schaal is the incoming dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences,” says Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger III, PhD, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor. “We served together for years on the Academic Planning Committee in Arts & Sciences, and she always displayed clear vision and good judgment. I am sure I speak for the faculty when I say we feel extremely fortunate in having Barbara take on this critical position. She has broad knowledge across the relevant academic disciplines and will provide strong leadership.”