Announcement Regarding Peter Awn, Dean of the School of General Studies

October 25, 2016

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:
Peter Awn, Dean of the School of General Studies for the past 20 years, has informed me that he will be stepping down as Dean at the end of this academic year.  Peter began leading the School of General Studies when it was celebrating its 50th year and will be leaving on the 70th anniversary of the School’s founding.  Between those two milestones, he has been responsible for making the School of General Studies a unique institution across all of higher education.  After completing his term as Dean, Peter will continue with his research, scholarship, and teaching as a member of our faculty.
Let me just say a few words about Peter’s accomplishments.
Perhaps the signal accomplishment of Peter’s deanship has been his ability to preserve the much cherished distinctiveness of the General Studies student body while ensuring that these students have an academic experience indistinguishable from that of any other undergraduate at the University.  Thirteen percent of the School’s incoming class this year are international students, and 35 percent are first-generation college students—in each case the largest proportion of such students found at any Ivy League college.  True to the history of the School’s post-World War II founding, there are also more than 400 undergraduate student veterans enrolled at General Studies this academic year, roughly four times the combined total enrolled at all other Ivy universities.
The School of General Studies makes a profound contribution to the University’s abiding commitment to the principle of broad diversity.  Columbia’s classrooms, accordingly, are unlike any others.  Meanwhile, Peter has also made sure that General Studies students are full participants in the clubs, athletic teams, and other student organizations at the center of undergraduate life.
During his time as Dean, Peter developed and strengthened undergraduate and postbaccalaureate degree offerings and other academic programming worthy of the School’s mission and the students it serves.  From the oldest and largest pre-medical certificate program in the nation, providing a path to medical school for individuals already holding an undergraduate degree, to new dual Bachelor of Arts programs conducted in partnership with Sciences Po in Paris and the City University of Hong Kong, respectively, the School of General Studies has been at the forefront of innovation in higher education.
For those in the Columbia community who may find it difficult to contemplate the School of General Studies without Peter Awn as its Dean, I must note that Dean Awn had a previous existence at Columbia, and a decorated one, at that.  Prior to becoming Dean, Peter had been for many years a Professor of Islamic and Comparative Religion and, for a time, chair of the Department of Religion, as well as chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and acting Dean of the School of Continuing Education (now the School of Professional Studies).  In each position, Peter earned the admiration and affection of colleagues, students, alumni, and staff, just as he has done for the past 20 years as Dean of the School of General Studies.
To assist in finding Peter’s successor I will soon convene a search committee, which I have asked David Madigan to co-chair with me.  For now, I simply want to express the University’s deepest gratitude for all that Peter has given to Columbia and for the devoted and skillful leadership he has long provided to the School of General Studies.
Lee C. Bollinger