Ray Jayawardhana named dean of Arts and Sciences

Ray Jayawardhana

Distinguished astrophysicist, renowned science writer and accomplished academic leader Ray Jayawardhana has been named the 22nd dean of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, Provost Michael Kotlikoff announced June 26.

Currently dean of the Faculty of Science and professor of physics and astronomy at York University in Toronto, Jayawardhana investigates the origins and diversity of planetary systems and the prospects for life in the universe, using the world’s largest telescopes. A graduate of Yale and Harvard universities, he is an award-winning author of science books and articles written for a general audience.

His five-year appointment as the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences was approved by the Executive Committee of the Cornell Board of Trustees and is effective Sept. 1. He also has been appointed professor of astronomy.

“Professor Jayawardhana is both academically distinguished and has outstanding experience in academic leadership,” Kotlikoff said. “He is also someone who bridges disciplines easily, having trained broadly with substantial background in the humanities and the communication of science.”

Jayawardhana has served as York’s chief academic and administrative officer of the Faculty of Science since 2014, overseeing a $55 million (Canadian) budget and $15 million in research funding. The Faculty of Science comprises five departments, one division, several research centers, 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 150 faculty members and 80 staff. Previously, he was professor, Canada Research Chair in observational astrophysics, and senior adviser to the president on science engagement at the University of Toronto.

“I am humbled and excited to join the truly outstanding and incredibly vibrant academic community at Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences,” Jayawardhana said. “It will be an honor to serve and support scholars from a broad range of disciplines who explore – in a variety of ways, through a variety of lenses – the human condition and the world around us, engage with the biggest issues of our time, and empower the next generation of critical thinkers and action leaders.

“I look forward to collaborating with colleagues in Arts and Sciences and across the entire university to advance Cornell and its impact,” he said.

As dean, Jayawardhana will be the academic, administrative and community leader of Cornell’s largest college. He’ll be responsible for building the intellectual, financial and human capabilities of the college; enhancing its reputation, distinction and influence; and improving the quality of the student experience.

Jayawardhana is co-author of more than 125 papers in scientific journals. His research and writing have led to numerous accolades, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a Radcliffe fellowship from Harvard and the Rutherford Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada.

A frequent commentator in the media, he is also a writer whose articles have appeared in publications including The Economist, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and Scientific American.

His book “Strange New Worlds” was the basis for “The Planet Hunters” television documentary on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.; his book “Neutrino Hunters” won the Canadian Science Writers Association’s Science in Society Book Award. An avid traveler, he has visited more than 55 countries and all seven continents. His travels, for research and writing, have included numerous visits to mountaintop observatories in Chile and Hawaii, a meteorite collecting expedition in Antarctica, a parabolic flight with the European Agency, a solar eclipse chase in western Mongolia and a descent into a South African mine with geobiologists.

Prior to joining the University of Toronto in 2004, Jayawardhana was a faculty member at the University of Michigan and a Miller Research Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

He earned a Ph.D. degree in astronomy from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Science degree in astronomy and physics from Yale University.

Jayawardhana will succeed Gretchen Ritter ’83, dean of the college since 2013. She will extend her service as dean through Aug. 31 and then return to teaching and research as professor of government.

Kotlikoff thanked Ritter for her many achievements. These include bringing Klarman Hall to completion as a home for the humanities, launching a review of the undergraduate curriculum, restructuring the college’s advising and admissions offices, overseeing a period of extraordinary hiring and fundraising, and retaining key faculty members.

“The university is deeply grateful for Dean Ritter’s outstanding leadership and service during her tenure,” Kotlikoff said.

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Joe Schwartz