Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), and the Hans Bethe Professor and professor of astronomy, has been named provost of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Jayawardhana’s five-year appointment begins Oct. 15.
Rachel Bean, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor in the Department of Astronomy, and senior associate dean for math and science, has been named interim A&S dean, effective July 13, while the university conducts a national search for Jayawardhana’s successor. Jayawardhana will remain at Cornell and help with the leadership transition until his departure.
“Dean Jayawardhana has led the university’s most academically diverse college with skill and grace, all while maintaining a high-quality research program of his own,” Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff said. “The College of Arts and Sciences has flourished over the past five years, and Ray leaves with A&S on a strong upward trajectory. We are truly grateful for his leadership and friendship; we’ll miss him but know he will do great things at Hopkins.”
Jayawardhana called it “an honor” to lead A&S for the past five years.
“It’s been a joy to be part of this vibrant community,” he said. “Together, we have built upon a phenomenal legacy of exploration and engagement in a whole host of ways, and positioned the college as a nexus of discovery and impact.
“I’m thankful to the terrific colleagues, students, alumni and others with whom I’ve been privileged to partner,” he said. “I will continue to cheer for Cornell from afar.”
Previously dean of the Faculty of Science and professor of physics and astronomy at York University in Toronto, Jayawardhana came to Cornell as the 22nd A&S dean on Sept. 1, 2018, succeeding Gretchen Ritter ’83, the college’s first female dean.
During his tenure, Jayawardhana has led the recruitment of 131 new tenure-stream faculty members and appointments to 66 endowed professorships. The college has set consecutive fundraising records, with a tally exceeding $95.6 million for fiscal year 2023, and has reached $350 million of its $400 million campaign goal in support of these priorities.
Major initiatives launched under Jayawardhana’s leadership include:
- the Klarman Fellowships, a postdoctoral program for exceptional emerging researchers, renewed and expanded recently;
- 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;
- the Arts Unplugged series of marquee events that bring the campus community and the public together around themes of broad interest; and
- the $110 million renewal of the iconic McGraw Hall, the third-oldest building on campus and home to the departments of history and anthropology.
Jayawardhana played a pivotal role in establishing the Cornell Brooks School of Public Policy and the multi-college departments of sociology and psychology, and expanding the Department of Economics. He also partnered with deans and faculty to formulate and lead three signature initiatives – on climate, artificial intelligence and quantum research.
As a researcher, Jayawardhana studies the diversity, origins and evolution of planetary systems, and the formation and evolution of stars. In particular, his group uses the largest telescopes on the ground and in space to do remote-sensing of exoplanets as a way to explore prospects for life in the universe.
He is a core science team member for the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope; his group leads a Gemini Observatory large program on high-resolution spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres.
“On a deeply personal level,” he said, “it’s gratifying and humbling to have served on the faculty at Carl Sagan’s academic home, and to have held the Hans A. Bethe Professorship.”
A native of Sri Lanka, Jayawardhana received his bachelor’s in astronomy and physics from Yale University, and his Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University.