Academic power couple leaving UI for Northeastern University

Academic power couple leaving UI for Northeastern University

URBANA — The University of Illinois is losing an academic power couple to Northeastern University in Boston, with the departure of Beckman Institute Director Arthur Kramer and his wife, College of ACES Associate Dean Laurie Kramer.

Art Kramer, a noted brain researcher who helped get Beckman off the ground in 1989, has been appointed senior vice provost for research and graduate education at Northeastern, as of May 2.

Laurie Kramer, a family-studies expert who founded the UI's Family Resiliency Center, will be the new director of Northeastern's campus Honors Program starting next June.

Both plan to retire from the UI after nearly 37 years. Laurie Kramer said the precarious Illinois state budget, while "certainly a stressor for everyone here," wasn't the primary reason for the move.

They couldn't pass up an opportunity to work in Boston, where their only daughter, Annie, will be graduating from law school soon and plans to get a job.

"We're going to miss this place, too," Art Kramer said.

He was one of the initial team of researchers and administrators who laid the groundwork for the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology in 1989. He was co-director of the UI's Center for Healthy Minds for five years, co-chaired Beckman's intelligent human-computer interaction group for 12 years and was director of the biomedical imaging center there for six years. He was appointed Beckman director in 2010.

"It's probably the best job I'll ever have," said Kramer, who also holds appointments in psychology and neuroscience.

He has built strong interdisciplinary teams in cognitive and brain health and attracted millions of dollars in research grants, said Peter Schiffer, UI vice chancellor for research. Since Kramer took over, external funding awarded to Beckman's 200-plus faculty members has jumped by 50 percent.

"We're sorry to lose him but it's a great opportunity for him. Art's impact on campus has been tremendous and we are grateful for his service," Schiffer said.

Prof. Edward McAuley, who has worked with Kramer for two decades exploring the effects of physical activity and exercise on brain health, said Kramer is an "absolutely outstanding scientist, administrator and faculty member. He will be a huge loss for this campus."

"One of the things I've admired the most about him is that he's a real champion of young faculty, a tremendous student advocate, and always willing to help anybody who asks for his help," McAuley said. "I've watched him bring along many, many fine young faculty. He always has time for them."

Kramer's research has attracted wide media attention, even from "Saturday Night Live." His studies have found that aerobic exercise causes certain parts of the brain to grow and that fitness is associated with stronger brain connections, even in older adults.

Earlier in his career, he studied brain function in air-traffic controllers as part of his "human factors" research.

Kramer is one of the highest-paid faculty members on campus, with a salary of $442,840 a year.

He has received "quite a few offers" over the years to leave the UI, but he said he stayed because of Beckman.

"To be involved in helping to design the space was fantastic. I thought that was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said, but he was recruited to Northeastern to help design a new interdisciplinary research complex there.

Laurie Kramer spent 20 years as a UI faculty member before becoming associate dean for academic programs at the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Her research focuses on family relationships and coping with stress. She launched the effort to create a research and education program in "family resiliency" around 2000, with help from Pampered Chef founder Doris Christopher.

Christopher later donated money for Doris Christopher Hall, now home to the Family Resiliency Center, which opened in 2006. Kramer was the first director.

She said her charge at Northeastern is to bring the "experiential learning" focus of the school to its honors program. All students there do co-ops as part of their studies.

Both Kramers said the highlight of their UI careers has been working with students.

"When you've been around for a long time, you see these students launch into fabulous careers," said Laurie Kramer, who has won teaching awards. "Sometimes their kids end up coming here, and then you feel really old.

"We've loved our colleagues and the programs that we've worked with, the opportunities we've been afforded here," she added. "I have a lot of mixed emotions."

The Kramers, both New York natives, came to the UI as graduate students in 1979 after meeting at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Illinois "really helped me develop as an interdisciplinary scientist. It also provided great friendships," Art Kramer said.

"I still remember first getting here from New York in 1979, and people would smile and say hello to you on the street," he said. "In New York City, if they did that, I'd have to check to see if my wallet was still there."

Kramer said he had great mentors in graduate school, and when he was looking for his first faculty job he was asked to give practice talk by a senior UI psychology professor.

"The next day, I got an offer," he said.

He plans to keep a research lab at the UI for a couple of years. He was also asked to remain on the search committee for a new chancellor, at least until he leaves in late April.

Kramer said the plan is to appoint an interim director at Beckman and then launch a national search for his replacement.

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IlliniBooster wrote on January 25, 2016 at 8:01 am

I understand the old academic way and that it takes a while to wrap up research but I really question whether the University can any longer afford to tie up space and resources for professors taking lucrative jobs elsewhere. Be thankful you got out under the existing pension and don't look back. Leave the resources for people who are struggling to remain on campus and to accommodate the growing student body.  Would also be interesting to track the salary trajectory after those other offers over the years.  Would guess there were substantial sweeteners from campus along the way.  Again, I understand that's the way the game is played but question if the University can afford that in the future.  If you apply for and are offered another job, just take it.  Don't do the cynical backdoor salary increase here. 

tominmadison wrote on January 25, 2016 at 8:01 am

Sad to see them go, very big loss indeed. They both have given a lot to UIUC.

It is often difficult to find two desirable jobs for academic couples. when they come around, you take them.


our loss, and I'm sure, despite their gracious words, the uncertainty of UIUC's future was a factor.


voters get what they deserve.

If you don't want to pay for a great university, you don't get one.


Maybe the governor can help them pack. 




andrewscheinman wrote on January 25, 2016 at 10:01 am

He might be keeping the lab here because he has grad students who need to finish up, not sure how much actual physical space "keeping the lab" entails, I'm sure others would start lobbying for any available space as soon as they could.