Plant pathologist William Fry elected Cornell faculty dean

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On a sabbatical leave in South Africa, William Fry learned this week that Cornell's faculty has elected him as its new dean. Fry, a professor of plant pathology, is conducting research at Stellenbosch University on a plant pathogen that causes potato late blight. He will return to Ithaca in late May.

In an e-mail reply to questions, Fry said he looks forward to learning "the ropes" from the current dean of faculty, Charles Walcott, who steps down -- as well as retires from Cornell -- on June 30.

Fry's appointment, subject to approval by the Executive Committee of the Cornell Board of Trustees later this spring, will run from July 1 to June 30, 2011.

"Some of my colleagues are amazing in their abilities and accomplishment, so it will be a significant and humbling honor to serve as their dean," said Fry in his e-mail. "Being selected to become dean of this faculty brings a sense of very serious responsibility."

Said Walcott: "I am simply delighted to welcome him as the new dean. Bill has served as a faculty-elected trustee, he served as senior associate dean in the College of Agriculture Life Sciences and is widely respected by faculty."

Fry noted that part of his role as dean will be to understand important faculty concerns and then act as a conduit for communication between faculty, the administration and the trustees.

"If the dean has the trust and confidence of these groups, the faculty will have an influential voice in many important university decisions," he said.

Fry graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemistry, with high honors, from Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln, Neb., in 1966. He earned his doctorate in plant pathology from Cornell in 1970.

A member of the Cornell faculty since 1971, Fry has most recently served as senior associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (2001-07) with responsibility for department issues, faculty affairs, facilities, sponsored research and personnel. He also has served as chair of his department (1981-95) as well as on many university committees, including the Presidential Search Committee for former President Jeffrey Lehman, and as a faculty member of the Cornell Board of Trustees (1998-2002), where he served on such committees as Buildings and Properties and Academic Affairs.

As a plant pathologist, Fry's work has focused on Phytophthora infestans, the organism that causes potato late blight, which led to the Irish potato famine. As dean of faculty, Fry commented, "my hope is to retain my research and teaching activities -- but probably at a less active level … I do expect the activities of dean to take priority over my personal research goals."


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Krishna Ramanujan