Ralph Kuncl, a neuroscientist and member of the School of Medicine faculty since 1983, has been appointed to the new position of vice provost for undergraduate education.
Kuncl, who has spent the past year working on undergraduate issues as an American Council on Education fellow, will support strategic planning work by the five Johns Hopkins schools with undergraduates, Provost Steven Knapp said.
"He will also advise the university's senior leadership on ways of improving undergraduate education and developing the unique opportunities that Johns Hopkins can provide as a large research university with a relatively small undergraduate population," Knapp said. Kuncl also will oversee preparation for the university's decennial accreditation, a process that begins this fall, Knapp said.
President William R. Brody said he and Knapp were impressed by Kuncl's work as an ACE fellow, both in their offices last semester and at Bryn Mawr College last fall. At the same time, he said, the growth in recent years of undergraduate programs throughout the university had made apparent the need for additional support in University Administration.
"The trustees, the provost, the deans and I feel strongly that excellence in undergraduate education is a critical component of who we are at Johns Hopkins. That excellence is essential to our continued competitiveness as a research university," Brody said.
"Now, for the first time," he said, "we will have someone at the table in central administration whose entire portfolio is undergraduate education. The deans agree with Provost Knapp and me that this is an exciting opportunity to think about our undergraduate programs in new and innovative ways."
The university's five divisions with undergraduates are the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, the School of Nursing, the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education and the Peabody Institute. Of last year's total enrollment of 17,967 students, 5,278 were undergraduates.
Kuncl, a professor of neurology and pathology and director of the Neuromuscular Laboratory, has concentrated his research and clinical work on Lou Gehrig's disease and disorders of muscle. He recognizes that many people will find it unusual that a physician/scientist who spent nearly two decades in the School of Medicine has so completely changed focus.
"I have a sympathy for and a passion about undergraduate education or I wouldn't be here," said Kuncl, who called his own college years the "transforming experience" of his life. He said he sees his coming to the vice provost's job from outside the undergraduate divisions as an advantage, as he will not be perceived as having any particular ax to grind.
"This objectivity will be my best advantage," he said. "My best role will be as a facilitator and convener, to help the community to reinvent itself if it chooses to."
During his ACE fellowship, a prestigious national training program for academic administrators, his projects at Bryn Mawr College included a plan for implementing projects funded by a new campaign. He also did research on the role of liberal arts colleges as a pipeline for women into the sciences. His fellowship semester at Hopkins involved assessing how a strong and decentralized research university like Johns Hopkins might rethink undergraduate education.
"I have always expected I would have five to seven careers in my life, not one or two," Kuncl said. During the fellowship, he said, he realized as he worked on undergraduate issues that "there's something very intriguing here that has nothing to do with neurology." He decided that he would enjoy bringing the analytical skills of a neurologist--people used to "chronic, seemingly insoluble problems"--to bear on "something as intriguing as undergraduate education."
Kuncl is a 1970 graduate of Occidental College and earned both his Ph.D. and M.D. degrees at the University of Chicago, in 1975 and 1977. He received a graduate certificate in the business of medicine from Johns Hopkins in 1996.
He first came to Johns Hopkins in 1980 as a fellow in neurology in 1980, joining the faculty three years later and becoming a full professor in 1996.