UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Alivisatos wrote an announcement to the campus community last week announcing the news that Jennifer Wolch, the first woman to serve as dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design (CED), has decided to step down next summer at the end of her second term.
“Jen has had a great impact on CED and has been instrumental in sustaining its excellence over the past decade, and I hope you will join me in thanking her for her years of service to campus,” he wrote.
Wolch took up the CED deanship in 2009 after a long career at USC. Early in her tenure as dean, she guided the College through a strategic planning process that assessed its curricula, research priorities, level of diversity, and the state of its physical learning spaces. Importantly, this community-driven process helped strengthen links among CED’s departments and heightened a sense of shared purpose at the design school. It also resulted in changes including enhancements to the undergraduate experience; the establishment of cross-campus interdisciplinary academic offerings; and the adoption of new co-curricular activities for the CED community that examine the interplay between race, ethnicity, gender, and the built environment.
Building off of the recommendations from the planning process, Wolch also led an effort to shore up the College’s infrastructure, working with her staff to centralize operations, improve student services, establish an external Dean’s Advisory Council, and reconfigure CED’s development office. Beyond this, Wolch enhanced Wurster Hall’s physical learning and social spaces by conducting critical renovations and spearheading the creation of a new gallery, digital fabrication lab, student study hub, and café.
Last but certainly not least, Wolch devoted herself to bringing the most talented and diverse scholars possible to CED. In her time as dean she led the recruitment of 20 exceptional ladder rank faculty, a quarter of whom are faculty of color and half of whom are women. To bring in the best students, Jen collaborated with departments to boost financial support for doctoral candidates and create diversity fellowships for professional school students. To keep alumni connected to CED, she established an annual showcase of student design and research reviewed by distinguished graduates and other leading professionals.
“A CED faculty member once told me about visiting an Ivy-league peer institution, where faculty seemed puzzled by CED: what was its guiding philosophy or Big Idea? Our CED colleague laughed and told them that there was no singular philosophy, no Big Idea. Instead there was debate, discourse, and a radical independence of thought, ideas, and projects. In short, it was BERKELEY, sui generis,” Wolch wrote in an email to CED faculty, students and staff. “But at the same time, the college adheres to certain bedrock values that guide our teaching, learning, and professional practice – social and environmental equity, sustainability, respect for nature and natural process, design and planning innovation in response to social context and environmental challenges. It is this combination of freedom of thought and expression, and bedrock values that is the genius of CED.”
Wolch's work as dean has further cemented CED’s status as one of the most prestigious design schools in the world. While her leadership will be greatly missed, we would like to extend our sincere thanks to Wolch for her committed service to Berkeley, and to wish her the very best in her final year as dean. We are happy to report that after stepping down next summer, Wolch – also a celebrated scholar of urban planning and geography – will remain on campus as a member of CED’s full-time faculty.
We will keep the community informed as plans for a search for Dean Wolch's successor take shape.