Information science dean to change roles

By Lauren Rosenblatt / Assistant News Editor

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Ron Larsen, dean of Pitt’s School of Information Sciences, will resign in 2017 after he helps lead a department restructure, the University said on Thursday.

Larsen, who has worked at Pitt since 2002, is now working with the chair of the Department of Computer Science, Taieb Znati, to combine the department with SIS. He will leave the position and return to teaching and researching in the summer of 2017, a Pitt press release said.

The Jan. 27 release said the University would form a search committee this summer to find his successor, who will lead the new SIS and CS academic unit in its inaugural year.

Plans for the new academic unit began last April. Larsen said in an email the program will combine computing and information sciences programs to foster more collaboration and “capitalize on existing strengths.”

Larsen, Znati and other faculty members will propose the program to Provost and Senior vice chancellor, who asked Larsen to begin the project,this summer and are hoping to enroll the first students in the fall 2017 semester.

“This is a rather massive undertaking, involving not only SIS and CS faculty, but also a very substantial number of faculty throughout the University, as we explore the opportunities and challenges that such a new academic unit could address,” Larsen said.

After the restructure is complete, Larsen plans to teach at Pitt and conduct research on policy and education to expand society’s use of computing services.

Larsen said he had not decided what he would teach in the fall but was interested in digital libraries and data curation.

Patricia E. Beeson, provost and senior vice chancellor at Pitt, praised Larsen in the release for his “visionary leadership” in the Information Sciences Department. According to Beeson, the program grew and external funding tripled in the 15 years that Larsen served as dean.

“Under his leadership, SIS has been transformed from a departmentalized faculty to a unified information school. The reorganized school creates an environment conducive to collaborative research and education among SIS faculty and between SIS faculty and scholars outside the school,” Beeson said.

In addition to his efforts at Pitt, Larsen helped found the iSchools consortium, a group of 65 universities that meet at an annual conference to collaborate about their experiences building their respective computer science departments.

Before coming to Pitt, Larsen worked at NASA as an aerospace technologist and a program manager. Larsen also worked at the University of Maryland in several positions, including assistant vice chancellor for the computing system, and at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as an assistant director.

Larsen received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue in 1968, his master’s degree from the Catholic University of America in 1971 and his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Maryland in 1981, according to the release.

Larsen said he has enjoyed his time as dean but feels that the introduction of the new program provides an excellent starting point for new leadership.

“Having had the privilege to serve as dean of SIS for 15 years, this felt like the right moment for me to hand over the reins to the new school, a rare opportunity for a new dean to truly shape a future with many opportunities and few constraints in place,” Larsen said.

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