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Charlie Van Loan, the Joseph C. Ford Professor of Engineering Emeritus in the Department of Computer Science and the retiring dean of the faculty.

‘Consummate communitarian’ retiring as faculty dean

Charles “Charlie” Van Loan couldn’t easily walk away.

In 2016, Van Loan, the Joseph C. Ford Professor of Engineering Emeritus in the Department of Computer Science, retired from Cornell after an esteemed four-decade academic career at the university – but he began immediately serving as dean of the faculty that same year.

In 2020, he volunteered again to stay on, for an additional year in the position, “after it became clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would ravage how we run the place,” he said. “It was a ‘don’t abandon the ship’ thing.”

As a professor and as dean of the faculty, serving as the advocate and liaison for the more than 1,700 faculty members to the Cornell administration and broader university community, Van Loan was known to excel at deftly translating complex issues, facilitating communication and decision-making, and striving for consensus, all with a transparent, honest approach and good humor.

“I am very glad to have stayed on this extra year working with colleagues, students and staff on one difficult issue after another,” Van Loan said of his and the university’s efforts to grapple with the upheaval caused by the pandemic – assisting faculty in figuring out how to move all classes online last spring, finding new ways to effectively communicate throughout the crisis, and to prepare for hybrid teaching and extensive public health and testing protocols as a “new normal” fall semester began last year.

“For me it has been a gigantic teaching moment – an occasion to rethink just about everything associated with the profession, using all that I have learned since starting out in 1975 as an assistant professor in computer science,” he said.

“Charlie is the consummate communitarian – always listening to others, making sure everyone is included, and trying to achieve consensus,” said Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff. “This, coupled with his humility, lack of suspicion, and honest and direct manner are keys to his effectiveness.”

On May 28, Van Loan was thanked and honored by the Cornell Board of Trustees, along with Paul Streeter, M.B.A. ’95, who is retiring as the university’s vice president for budget and planning following a long and distinguished 35-year career at Cornell, awarding him the title vice president for budget and planning emeritus; and Madelyn Wessel, who is retiring as vice president and general counsel after serving in the position since 2017, capping a four-decade legal career.

Van Loan “is appreciated for his unique style,” a board resolution stated, “firm but nonconfrontational; humble, honest and direct; always listening to constituents but not backing down from unfounded criticism and, in the process, building a lasting trust.”

The resolution continued: “Faced with the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic and Cornell’s evolving response to it, Charles Van Loan effectively became the face of the university for many faculty members, holding daily Zoom office hours in the early weeks of the pandemic where he offered reassurance, communication and support, which evolved into regular weekly and then biweekly office hours, garnering him ongoing gratitude and respect from his colleagues.”

Van Loan will be succeeded as dean of the faculty on July 1 by Eve De Rosa, associate professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology. Her election marked the first time Cornell’s faculty has selected a woman and person of color to the position.

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Abby Butler