College of Science & Engineering Alumni Newsletter
SFSU says 'bon voyage' to James
By Matt Itelson
Decisive. Engaging. Fair-minded. Highly respected. Intelligent. Leader.
Personable. Sincere. Visionary. Witty.
These are just a handful of the words used by SFSU faculty and administrators to describe qualities of College of Science and Engineering Dean James Kelley, who is retiring in October.
“Jim Kelley puts the lie to the old C.P. Snow notion of the two cultures — an articulate, sophisticated intellectual, he is as much at home in the world of letters as the halls of science,” says SFSU President Robert Corrigan. “I will miss his wit and charm and his uncanny ability to explain scientific issues in a language even I can understand.”
From the moment Kelley joined SFSU as dean in 1975, he has actively encouraged faculty to pursue grants for research, pushed for recruitment of a diverse faculty, established new facilities such as the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies (RTC), published his own research in oceanography and geology, taught classes, mentored fellow faculty in the College, and much more.
During his 26-year tenure, the College has increased annual external funding for research from $100,000 upon his arrival as dean to $22 million today, which he says is one of his two greatest accomplishments as dean. That $22 million represents 60 percent of the College’s budget. In addition, he emphasizes that all of the research is conducted to benefit students as well as faculty.
Daniel Buttlaire, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering, credits Kelley for this focus.
“The high-quality education that students obtain in the College is a direct result of Dean Kelley’s successful leadership in hiring high-quality faculty and emphasizing the importance of meaningful student participation in faculty-supervised research,” he says.
“Many of our faculty are now leading researchers in their fields and outstanding educators who actively involve students in their research and teach students how to solve real-world problems.”
Kelley says that his other top accomplishment has been ensuring that the College’s faculty reflect its diverse student body. For example, he noted that five of the 40 faculty members in biology are Latinos.
“We’ve done better than any other university I know of in our field in bringing in our Latino faculty in biology,” he says. “When I read their retention and promotion documents, there are letters from Latino students on how important these role models are to them.”
Biology Professor Leticia Marquez-Magana echoes this sentiment strongly.
“I have known individuals committed to increasing the number of minority scientists, but it is rare to find someone who harbors this passion and who has the power to act on this conviction. James Kelley is such an individual,” she says. “As dean, he has changed the face of science at SFSU.”
And many in the College are also going to miss Kelley’s famous Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day parties. At his final St. Patrick's Day party last month, he celebrated the rich history of immigration to the United States by acknowledging members of the College’s faculty and staff.
“To me, St. Patrick’s Day is not to celebrate the Irish, but to celebrate all immigrants who have made (the United States) what it is today,” he says.
The diversity of SFSU and the entire Bay Area are a constant reminder to Kelley of a crucial reason why he chose to come here from the University of Washington. It is also what he will miss the most about SFSU.
“On this campus, I learn something every day. Not necessarily about oceanography, but about life,” he says.
Kelley will also miss teaching his course “John Steinbeck and ‘Doc’ Ricketts: Literature and the Sea,” which he has been doing for 20 years. The course is based on the close relationship between Steinbeck and the pioneer environmentalist and Monterey-based marine biologist.
"This article originally appeared in the April 2001 issue of First Monday, SFSU's monthly newsletter for faculty and staff."
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