Jayawardhana reappointed A&S dean, named Bethe professor

Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), has been appointed to a second five-year term, beginning July 1, 2023.

The Cornell Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee voted May 25 to approve the reappointment. Jayawardhana began his tenure as the college’s 22nd dean in 2018.

Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

In addition, the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Academic Affairs voted May 26 to name Jayawardhana the Hans A. Bethe Professor. That appointment begins July 1, 2022.

“Dean Jayawardhana has been an exceptional leader of the university’s most academically diverse college,” Provost Michael Kotlikoff said. “Under his leadership, the College of Arts and Sciences has experienced tremendous upward momentum, attracting top faculty, researchers and students.

“He has also played a pivotal role in shaping universitywide Radical Collaboration initiatives, propelling discovery in diverse areas of inquiry,” Kotlikoff added. “And he has done all that while sustaining a prolific research program of his own and continuing to write for the public.”

“It is a privilege to lead this incredible college, work with such inspiring colleagues and support such extraordinary students,” Jayawardhana said. “Growing up in Sri Lanka, I knew of Cornell as Carl Sagan’s academic home and imagined it to be a dynamic intellectual hub. It is gratifying to extend that legacy of exploration and engagement in the College of Arts and Sciences.” 

Jayawardhana has positioned A&S as “the nexus of discovery and impact,” and focused on several strategic priorities during his tenure as dean, including: faculty renewal and support; research and creative excellence; academic innovation and student experience; and public engagement and impact. He has overseen the recruitment of nearly 90 new faculty members and appointments to more than 50 endowed professorships.

During Jayawardhana’s tenure, A&S has garnered more than $200 million in new gifts and commitments in support of these priorities. Fundraising in the current fiscal year is the highest in the college’s history.

Among the signature initiatives launched under Jayawardhana’s leadership:

  • the Klarman Fellowships, a premier postdoctoral program for exceptional emerging researchers;
  • the New Frontier Grants for novel research projects with potential for transformative advances;
  • the Nexus Scholars program, to expand opportunities for undergraduate research with faculty;
  • the Humanities Scholars Program, a curated and mentored pathway through humanistic inquiry for select students;
  • the Distinguished Visiting Journalist program, to recognize excellence in journalism while fostering meaningful engagement between the media and the academy; and
  • the Arts Unplugged series of marquee events that bring the campus community and the public together around themes of broad interest.

A&S has also adopted a new undergraduate curriculum; implemented the Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity, in partnership with Cornell Tech; more than tripled funding for Summer Experience Grants; and enhanced career development support.

Jayawardhana and A&S played a key role in establishing the new Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy and the “superdepartments” of sociology and psychology, and expanding economics. Jayawardhana has also partnered with deans and faculty across the university to formulate and lead three “big idea” initiatives – on climate, artificial intelligence and quantum research.

As a researcher, Jayawardhana focuses on the diversity, origins and evolution of planetary systems, as well as the formation and evolution of stars and brown dwarfs. In particular, his group uses the largest telescopes on the ground and in space, including the Gemini Observatory in Hawaii and the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope, to do remote sensing of exoplanets, with a view to investigating prospects for life in the universe.

Among the honors Jayawardhana has received for his research, writing and outreach are the Guggenheim Fellowship; the Steacie Fellowship; the Nicholson Medal from the American Physical Society; and the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences. Asteroid (4668) Rayjay is named after him.

Jayawardhana has written numerous articles for outlets such as the New York Times, the Economist and the Wall Street Journal, and several books, including “Strange New Worlds” (2011) and “Neutrino Hunters” (2013). His latest, a picture book for children titled “Child of the Universe,” was published in 2020.

Cornell established the Hans A. Bethe Professorship in 1994 in recognition of Bethe, who taught at Cornell for 60 years after emigrating from Germany in the 1930s. Bethe was a key figure in the Manhattan Project during World War II, but became a staunch advocate for nuclear arms control. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1967 for his contributions to the theory of nuclear energy production in stars.

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli