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Douthitt to step down as dean of School of Human Ecology

July 1, 2011

Robin A. Douthitt, longtime dean of the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Human Ecology, will step down in the summer of 2012.


Douthitt says she will continue to serve until a new dean is appointed and the renovation and expansion of the Human Ecology Building is complete.

Chancellor Biddy Martin praised Douthitt’s leadership, creativity and innovation as dean.

“Robin is a passionate, strong and inspiring advocate for the school. She has worked tirelessly and creatively to improve its facilities and its programs,” Martin says. “Robin’s achievements will benefit generations of students, faculty and staff. She is a gifted and forward-looking administrator and a courageous human being.”

A two-year, $52 million addition and renovation to the school began in 2010. It will approximately double the school’s space for education, research, creative exhibitions, and outreach.

Douthitt was appointed dean in 2001, following more than a year of service as interim dean. She came to Wisconsin in 1986 as a faculty member in the Department of Consumer Science, after earning her Ph.D. in microeconomics at Cornell University.

She founded the UW–Madison Women’s Faculty Mentoring Program and served on the University of Wisconsin Athletic Board, where she represented Wisconsin faculty to the Big Ten Conference. Douthitt was named Vaughan Bascom Professor and, in 2000, received the Cabinet 99 Faculty/Staff Recognition Award from the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

As dean, Douthitt spearheaded development and implementation of the building renovation and expansion project.

The new facility will feature a state-of-the-art preschool and adjacent Francis Lehman Family Research Interaction Laboratory, which will be the first on-campus preschool research facility to include infants and young toddlers. Underground parking and a convenient new drop-off area will welcome the public to Human Ecology’s outreach and community events.

Constructed in 1913, the Human Ecology Building has had few renovations since a west wing was added in 1953. Other significant new improvements will be the creation of technology-rich learning environments and gathering spaces that encourage interdisciplinary work and interactions among faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students.

“The completion of the new building marks a natural transition point,” Douthitt says. “I never intended to be seated as dean in the new building.”

Among the achievements Douthitt is most proud of is rebuilding trust within the school. “It’s easy to build a building; it’s hard to build relationships,” she says.

She calls it “a privilege to work with so many outstanding classified and academic staff, faculty, alumni, and friends of the school. It’s particularly been a privilege to serve with Chancellor Martin.”

“Robin Douthitt has made unprecedented contributions to the School of Human Ecology during her years as dean,” says Wendy Way, human ecology associate dean of academic affairs. “Her visionary leadership has sparked marked growth in research productivity, enhanced the quality of the school’s academic programs, and fostered expanded community outreach aligned with the School’s mission-to improve the quality of human life. Our new facility will provide the physical foundation within which the school can continue to flourish in the years ahead.

“I can’t imagine the school without her,” Way adds. “But it is clear she will be leaving it in a wonderful place for the leaders who will succeed her.”

During Douthitt’s term as dean, gift funds to the school totaled $31.9 million. Grants for research and other scholarship grew from $206,732 in 2001 to $6.7 million this year and a projected $15.1 million in 2012 — a 75-fold total projected increase.