College of Arts and Sciences

Gretchen Ritter

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance, is excited to spend the coming fall in Ithaca — because, for all she will miss about the University, one thing she is not sad to leave behind is Texas weather. 

Ritter, also a government professor, is leaving UT to be the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University. A Cornell alumna herself, she will be the school’s first female dean.

“It was actually a little surprising to me that I’ll be the first woman in the position,” Ritter said. “I don’t think it will feel like a big deal to anyone there.”

Ritter, who has been on UT’s faculty since 1992, was instrumental in the creation of the Course Transformation Program, an initiative designed to improve large, lower division gateway courses by promoting student and faculty engagement. Steve Leslie, outgoing executive vice president and provost, said the Course Transformation Program was one of Ritter’s greatest accomplishments. 

“UT was one of the first places in the country to launch these blended and online learning initiatives, and Gretchen built that,” Leslie said. “She had the strength and persistent focus on cutting edge ways of transforming courses to set the stage for the methods we use today.”

Ritter also mentioned the program as one of her proudest achievements. 

“I’m proud of having supported an experiment that uses educational technology in positive and thoughtful ways, and in ways that were faculty led and designed,” Ritter said.

Ritter said her decision to leave is based on a variety of factors, including her appreciation of Cornell and a desire to return to the region of the country where she grow up. But in making her decision, Ritter said she also reflected on more recent concerns she has had about the state of Texas public higher education.

“I’m going because this is a great opportunity for me,” Ritter said. “But of course, I did reflect on the fact that it sometimes feels as though there is not as strong a commitment to supporting public higher education in the state as there used to be. That worries and concerns me.” 

Last week, history professor David Oshinsky announced his resignation from UT in favor of working full-time at New York University. Though he cited family connections and personal opportunities as reasons for his departure, he told the Austin-American Statesman that recent conflicts between UT and the UT System Board of Regents made the choice easier. 

“I do leave with sort of a bittersweet taste ... I see the University under fire now,” Oshinsky told the Statesman. “It does disturb me.”

Ritter said if trends like a lack of public commitment and support for public higher education continue, the University will suffer.

“I think we will be paying the price a decade from now,” Ritter said.

Still, Ritter said, she will miss many things about the University, including her colleagues and certain things that make UT a distinctly Texan university. 

“I’ll definitely miss salsa and tortilla chips,” Ritter said. 

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost and government professor, leaving UT, heading to Cornell

Gretchen Ritter, UT government professor and vice provost for undergraduate education, is leaving the University for a new position at Cornell University.

According to a press release from Cornell University, Ritter will serve as the school's 21st dean of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Ritter is the latest administrator to leave an open leadership position, following Provost and Executive Vice President Steven Leslie's announcement to step down in February. Leslie is staying at UT, however, while Ritter is not.

Ritter will be the first woman dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. 

At UT, Ritter is known for directing UT's Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and more recently steering the Course Transformation Program, an initative that aims to improve large, entry level classes. She also co-authored the final report of a Gender Equity Task Force from 2008, which identified nine categories of gender equity issues on campus.

In a press release from Cornell University, Ritter said she is excited for her new position.

"I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve as the next dean of this great college. Cornell is a special place – as I know from my years of having been a student there," Ritter said. "I look forward to working with the college's extraordinary students, faculty and alumni in making a great college even stronger in the years to come."


John Silber died Thursday morning of kidney failure at the age of 86. He worked at the University from 1957 to 1970 before Frank Erwin fired him because he opposed Erwin’s plan to reorganize the College of Arts and Sciences.

Silber started as a professor in 1957, became the chair of the philosophy department in 1962 and then served as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences beginning in 1967. Silber became the president of Boston University after Frank Erwin fired him. There, BU professor James Post said Silber was committed to improving the quality of education BU offered. Silber served as BU’s president from 1971 to 1996 and as chancellor from 1996 to 2003.

“He was a transformative leader,” Post said. “Some of the teaching I do is around leadership in institutions, and we use the phrase a lot this day about being a transformative leader. John Silber was a transformative leader before there was a term for it.”

At BU, Post said Silber recruited top-notch faculty members to improve the quality of education. Silber was given the job to fix what, Post said, was at the time a “broken institution.” He replaced the heads of many departments, which made him a source of controversy again. In his first few years at BU, faculty members tried to get Silber fired, but he remained at BU until 2003. On Thursday, BU dedicated the top of its website’s home page to Silber.

At UT, Erwin fired Silber because he opposed Erwin’s plan to reorganize the College of Arts and Sciences by dividing it into four parts.

According to The Daily Texan archives, Erwin said to Silber July 24, 1970: “John, you are very intelligent, articulate and hardworking. Because of these qualities, you make some people in higher education nervous. That is why you must be resigned or removed.”

Silber refused to resign and was fired. The Texan went on to draft a petition in support of Silber, but he was never reinstated.

Post said he met Silber upon being hired as a new faculty member in the ‘70s, and his impressions of Silber changed over time.

“At the beginning, I didn’t have any direct contact with him, so I only observed him at a distance. He seemed very brash and very autocratic,” Post said. “Over time I got to understand he was a very dedicated educator and very determined to improve the quality of the university and the quality of education in general.”

Post said Silber came to terms with his firing from UT easily and long ago.

“He thought his firing was the price of being direct and being forthright,” Post said. “He did say at one time he could have been more politically correct, but that was not his nature and it would not have served the institution very well.”

Post said even at BU, Silber was outspoken and not afraid to be an agent of change.

Douglas Sears, BU’s vice president and chief of staff for the president, said in a press statement that he respected Silber’s work ethic and sense of humor.

Silber retired in 2003 from his position as BU chancellor but continued to live on campus and remained a part of the university.

Silber is survived by his daughters, Rachel Devlin, Martha Hathaway, Judith Ballan, Alexandra Silber, Ruth Belmonte and Caroline Lavender; his son, Charles Hiett; his brother, Paul Silber; 26 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Former BU president dies, leaving history of controversy