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Provost Peter Spear to retire in December

April 4, 2005 By Dennis Chaptman

UW–Madison Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Peter Spear announced today (April 4) that he plans to retire in December.

Spear has been on the faculty of the UW–Madison since 1976, except for a five-year stint as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He returned to Madison in 2001 to become provost.

“When I began my career as a faculty member, I focused on work and family,” Spear says. “I envisioned leaving my professional career behind at a point when I was able to really enjoy retirement. I’m delighted it’s worked out that way.”

Spear, 60, said the hardest part of his decision to retire was weighing whether he wanted to pursue opportunities to lead an institution of higher education, a next logical career step.

“A university presidency involves a longer professional commitment than I’m prepared to make,” he says. “My wife and I have a number of other things we’re looking forward to starting, so the choice seemed clear.”

Chancellor John D. Wiley says Spear’s achievements as the university’s chief operating officer will yield lasting results on issues such as campus diversity, science education and faculty retention.

“Peter’s clear thinking, straightforward style and sound judgment will be difficult to replace,” Wiley says. “Peter has shared my commitment to enhance campus diversity. His belief in improving campus climate has built important momentum toward making this a better place to live, learn and work.”

Wiley notes that Spear has been an extremely effective communicator regarding the need for and value of new campus buildings.

“The mark of his tenure is seen not just in the places where students learn, but in how they learn and in the excellence of their teachers,” Wiley says. “Peter has helped make learning a better experience, both for students and faculty.”

Spear’s leadership has yielded many accomplishments that have improved student learning, strengthened the faculty, boosted campus climate and enhanced the administration of the university.

Spear’s work was instrumental in enhancing the cluster hiring initiative, which allowed the campus to build cross-disciplinary teams of faculty in knowledge areas that might not otherwise be addressed through existing departments. He also implemented procedures to facilitate cross-disciplinary teaching.

Another initiative led by Spear was the creation in 2003 of the Institute for Cross-College Biology Education, part of his larger effort to integrate undergraduate biology education across campus.

As the campus placed increased emphasis on improving campus climate and diversity, Spear has been a central player. One of the initiatives that he is most proud of is the establishment of an ombuds office for all faculty and staff across campus.

He also created the position of an associate vice chancellor dedicated specifically to diversity and climate initiatives, the first such position to exist on this campus.

Prior to the appointment of the associate vice chancellor for diversity and climate, Spear chaired the Campus Climate Network Group, and he brought in a consultant with expertise on diversifying the faculty to counsel academic deans and other campus leaders. This led to establishment of an action plan for recruiting, hiring and retaining minority faculty and women faculty in science and engineering.

“I believe we have jump-started what will be a long-term effort to ensure that people on this campus feel respected, supported and valued regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age or any other characteristic,” Spear says. “These changes do not happen overnight, but we have made a promising, positive start.”

The provost also has been active in improving services for transfer students, establishing an Undergraduate Academic Awards Office and working to enhance services for dual-career couples.

Spear is a world-renowned neuroscientist and has authored more than 90 articles on brain mechanisms of vision. He began teaching in the UW–Madison’s department of psychology in 1976 and became department chair in 1990. In 1994, Spear was named associate dean for social sciences in the College of Letters and Science.

Spear and his wife, Meredith, who will retire as vice president of Kurt Salmon Associates, will be relocating to Tucson, Ariz., and Frisco, Colo. A self-described lifelong learner, the provost says traveling, relearning how to play classical guitar and becoming fluent in Spanish top his to-do list. He also plans to write a popular book on neuroscience.

Wiley says the process for selecting a search committee will begin immediately, and the search for a successor will begin in the fall semester.