LAS dean departing UI for top Utah post
URBANA — Ruth Watkins, a longtime University of Illinois faculty member and dean, will leave this summer to become a top administrator at the University of Utah.
Watkins, who was passed over for the provost position at the UI last year, will be the senior vice president for academic affairs at Utah. She will start her new job on Aug. 1.
She has been dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Urbana since 2009. During her tenure, she oversaw the nearly $70 million renovation of Lincoln Hall, the campus landmark home to classrooms and faculty offices. The largest college on campus, LAS has about 12,000 undergraduate and 2,500 graduate students and an annual budget of about $142 million.
Prior to being named the Harry E. Preble Dean of the college, Watkins was a vice provost for academic affairs and before that an associate provost. She came to the UI as an assistant professor in 1993.
"It's been an enormous privilege to have a job here," Watkins said Friday. "The things I will miss the most are the remarkably talented people of the University of Illinois — people at every level: our students, staff and certainly our faculty."
Watkins received a bachelor's degree in speech language pathology from the University of Northern Iowa and a master's and doctorate in child language from the University of Kansas. She joined the UI faculty in 1993 and later became an associate dean for academic and research affairs in the College of Applied Health Sciences. From 2000 to 2009, she was associate provost and then vice provost for the campus before becoming dean of LAS in 2009. Last year, she was a finalist for the provost's job.
"Ruth has been a dedicated dean and has worked tirelessly to advance faculty scholarship and excellence, enhance the vibrancy of the student experience and increase access through scholarships and student support," said UI Provost Ilesanmi Adesida. "Her commitment goes beyond her college and her discipline. She has always cared deeply about our entire campus, and she will be missed."
Adesida said during her time as dean, Watkins has supported excellence in faculty hiring and promotion, worked to build new online learning opportunities as well bring in additional revenue to the college. She boosted the number of named faculty positions and student scholarships.
In addition to overseeing the renovation of Lincoln Hall, Watkins has in recent months focused on two other major renovations of college buildings: the Natural History Building and Chemistry Annex.
An interim dean has not been announced yet. Watkins said she plans to stay at the UI through the summer to allow for a "smooth and healthy transition of leadership."
Watkins said she was attracted to the job at the University of Utah because it is a growing institution with a lot of "exciting initiatives and strong scholars and a focused interest in enhancing undergraduate education," an area in which Watkins is passionate.
The job is "a good match for my talents and my interests," she said.
Watkins' departure creates another opening on campus at the dean level. The College of Engineering, College of Veterinary Medicine and University Library are all conducting searches for permanent deans.
The engineering and vet med colleges are in the midst of the interview and evaluation phase, and final candidates for the university librarian position are participating in public presentations this month.
Several other colleges on the campus have interim leaders, and searches have not yet formally begun there. Those include the College of Media, School of Labor and Employment Relations, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and the College of Medicine.