Announcement Regarding Jim Valentini, Dean of Columbia College

September 23, 2021

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I'm writing to share that Jim Valentini, after leading Columbia College so ably and with such distinction for a decade, will step down as Dean in June of 2022. We are delighted that Dean Valentini will continue to teach and conduct research as Professor of Chemistry when his responsibilities as Dean and Vice President of Undergraduate Education conclude at the end of this academic year.

Reflecting on the long tenure of a successful and beloved institutional leader is always a bittersweet affair, and that is especially the case here. Jim is a scientist who leads Columbia College with his heart as well as his intellect. Anyone who has worked with Jim for even a short time feels his devotion to the College and his abiding appreciation for its unique and proud history. His public addresses sparkled with familiar phrases and ideas: Columbia College is “the greatest college in the greatest university in the greatest city in the world;” his embrace of the Zen Buddhist state of “beginner’s mind;” and, of course, the delight he has taken in enlightening us all about Columbia Blue. Always, Jim’s stewardship of the College has focused on raising up the students, their families, faculty, alumni, and staff—a community he sees as being in his charge. This sense of responsibility for the wellbeing and future aspirations of thousands of people is something he has embraced and shouldered admirably. When Jim departs as Dean he will be missed as much for the spirit he has brought to the College as for any particular accomplishment, as many and as significant as they are.

The long-term, strategic plan for the College, developed under Jim’s guidance, provides an invaluable template for the future, created with input from faculty, students, staff, and the College’s alumni advisors. The plan focuses on innovative curricular offerings, expanded access through robust financial aid, and celebrating the Core Curriculum, as well as ways to support our world-class faculty. Paired with the strategic plan is the Core to Commencement Campaign, which Jim launched in 2015 to secure the resources needed to fulfill these goals. To date, the campaign has raised nearly $670 million of its $750 million goal. Those funds have endowed 25 professorships and 104 scholarships, made possible rich summer experiences for undergraduates, supported mentoring for faculty, and expanded resources devoted to student wellbeing.

Jim has made a priority of new initiatives designed to enrich the experience of Columbia College students and faculty. My Columbia College Journey is a project encouraging students to interrogate and share their experiences in service of skill-building and personal growth. The Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights links themes explored in Columbia’s Core Curriculum to contemporary issues concerning civil and political rights. Jim also has been responsible for a vast expansion of student resources beyond the classroom, from global engagement and career development, to his role in leading the JED Foundation task force on student wellness and mental health. The work of the task force resulted, in part, in the creation of Live Well | Learn Well, a project coordinating Columbia’s wealth of supportive resources to enhance the wellness of every Columbia student.

Jim arrived at Columbia more than thirty years ago and was quickly recognized for his thoughtfulness and engaged teaching. He was Chair of the Department of Chemistry from 2005 to 2008, and for three years he was director of the Department’s undergraduate studies program. He has been an active member of the University Senate, contributed significantly to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Diversity Initiatives, and has been Chair of the College Committee on Science Instruction, Chair of the Arts and Sciences Academic Review Committee, a member of the Committee on the Core and the College Committee on Instruction, and faculty representative to the Alumni Association Board. In 2009, Jim was named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society.

A signature of Jim’s time as Dean has been his approachability and his consistent availability to students and colleagues. He has always understood that the people of Columbia College, the students, faculty, staff, and alumni, are responsible for creating the distinctive experience of a Columbia College education. With this insight guiding him, Jim has for ten years been a fundamentally inclusive and wise steward of Columbia’s oldest school.

I am deeply grateful for Jim’s service to this University and we all look forward to celebrating him in the months ahead.


Lee C. Bollinger