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IOWA CITY - In hopes of easing toward retirement, the University of Iowa's long-serving Graduate College Dean and Associate Provost John Keller on Thursday announced he's stepping down July 31.
Keller will remain on the UI faculty as a tenured professor and also be a 'special assistant to the provost.” He also will continue to co-chair the committee leading the university's search for a new president.
Keller has been UI associate provost for graduate and professional education and Graduate College dean since 2002, after serving as interim for two years.
Having started his 33-year stretch at UI as an associate professor in the College of Dentistry in 1988, the now 68-year-old Keller will remain a professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery while also leading 'several projects” underway in the provost office.
'I probably would not do a really good job of being there full-time at 5 p.m. on a Friday and then not showing up Monday,” Keller said. 'That's probably a little bit too dramatic of a transition.”
Keller's resignation follows a string of other UI administrative changes - including former Provost Montse Fuentes' resignation; Dental College Dean David Johnsen's early retirement; and UI President Bruce Harreld's retirement announcement.
Keller told The Gazette his announcement was his own choice and seemed timely, given UI leadership changes.
'We have new leadership on campus - a new provost, the new president coming,” he said.
The university aims to fill Keller's role via 'internal search,” which UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett said is consistent for dual appointments involving a college and the Office of the Provost.
Examples include Tanya Uden-Holman, recently named associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of University College; and Russ Ganim, named associate provost and dean of International Programs.
Other internal hires of late include Provost Kevin Kregel; Dean of Students Angie Reams; Tippie College of Business Dean Amy Kristof-Brown; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Executive Officer Liz Tovar; and Vice President of Student Life Sarah Hansen.
'It gives talented faculty interested in higher education administration an opportunity to advance their careers while remaining at Iowa,” Bassett said.
Keller was the longest-serving graduate dean in the Big Ten and among the longest serving deans at the university - outserved only by Dental College Dean Johnsen, who's retiring this summer after 26 years on the job.
Of the 11 other deans, one is an interim, three were chosen in the past year, three were hired in 2018, two were hired in 2017 and one in 2016.
With Keller's resignation, College of Pharmacy Dean Donald Letendre - who started in 2007 - will be the longest-serving UI dean.
In his new role, Keller will help develop the university's 2022-27 strategic plan; help manage the campus' new public-private partnership for its utilities operation; update UI policies 'as needed”; and direct other projects, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.
‘Tremendous difference on campus'
In a statement, UI President Harreld praised Keller for making a 'tremendous difference across campus and within the Graduate College.”
'The university has benefited from his leadership, and his efforts have ensured that the Graduate College will be in good hands as he steps down,” Harreld said.
Shortly after Keller arrived at the UI College of Dentistry in 1988, he advanced to professor of dental research and oral and maxillofacial surgery and later served as director for the Biomaterials Research Program in the Dows Institute for Dental Research.
He served on the board of the American Association of Dental Research, including a stint as president, before launching permanently his tenure as associate provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate College in 2002.
Among his interim service, Keller served as the university's temporary vice president for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development from 2017 to 2019.
He's twice been the chair of the Big Ten Academic Alliance graduate deans group.
Proud of iowa
Keller told The Gazette he's most proud of directing the Graduate College's mission toward student success initiatives and said he's 'so proud to have spent the majority of my career at Iowa.”
'This university is rich with opportunity, and I am fortunate to have been a part of it,” he said. 'I have worked with so many talented students, faculty and staff to accomplish our goals. One of my most cherished remembrances will be the students I helped mentor through their undergraduate and graduate careers.
'This has been the privilege of my lifetime.”
14 new programs
While dean, Keller helped develop 14 new graduate programs and crafted and implemented a 'model for systematic assessments to improve graduate programs.” The time it takes students to graduate has fallen, and completion rates have improved on his watch.
The UI Graduate College, which today accounts for more than one-fifth of the campus' enrollment and boasts 13 programs in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, also approves proposals for new graduate programs, evaluates existing programs and confers most UI graduate degrees.
The interdisciplinary graduate programs it administers range from genetics to book arts.
Provost Kregel said in a statement that he's glad Keller will remain with the UI and continue serving it.
'During the two decades he has served as dean of the Graduate College, he has had immeasurable impact on graduate and professional education at Iowa,” Kregel said. 'And he has had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of students.”
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