Strohbehn named Duke provost

by Alexander R. Edlich | 5/16/94 5:00am

Only 10 months after stepping down as the College's provost to return to teaching at the Thayer School of Engineering, John Strohbehn has accepted Duke University's offer to become the school's number-two administrator.

On Thursday, Duke announced Strohbehn's appointment as provost after conducting a nation-wide search involving 200 candidates to replace outgoing Thomas Langford.

Duke President Nan Keohane appointed Strohbehn, a medical engineer, for a five-year term beginning July 1. Strohbehn is currently on sabbatical at the Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University and was scheduled to return to Thayer this summer.

"Professor Strohbehn is superbly qualified to assume this important post during this promising period in the history of Duke," Keohane said in a press release. "He is an outstanding teacher, with a strong background in interdisciplinary research in engineering and medicine.

"John also brings a wealth of administrative experience to the provostship. I am confident that he will provide effective leadership for the deans and the faculty as well as the other university constituencies, and I am most pleased he has agreed to join our administrative team," she continued.

Strohbehn said he took the job because he felt he shared the same values as Keohane and because he is thrilled about working with a new president.

Keohane became president of Duke last year after running Wellsley College in Massachusetts. Strohbehn served as College President James Freedman's first provost when Freedman assumed control of Dartmouth in 1987.

He said the "most change can be accomplished" during the first few years a university's president is in place and is thrilled about the prospects at Duke.

Acting Provost Bruce Pipes called the time Strohbehn referred to as the "honeymoon of new presidents."

Pipes, who was assistant provost when Strohbehn was provost, said Dartmouth is losing a great researcher and teacher.

Keohane, Strohbehn said, shares his views on the importance and commitment to an undergraduate education. He said he compliments Keohane, who has a background in political science.

Dean of the College Lee Pelton drew parallels between what Keohane is doing now to what Freedman did when he first came to Dartmouth.

"The new president is very smart," Pelton said. "She's surrounding herself with smart, bright, energetic, capable people."

While everyone wishes him well, many were taken off guard by Strohbehn's decision to become Duke's provost.

"I am surprised," Thayer School of Engineering Dean Charles Hutchinson said. "But I wasn't surprised that schools were looking at him."

Pipes, who will remain as interim provost until the new provost, Lee Bollinger, takes over this summer, said he was surprised at Strohbehn's decision to go to Duke.

"I think everyone was surprised because everyone thought he was quite sincere when he stepped down at Dartmouth," Pipes said. "He may feel he'll be able to accomplish some things at Duke that he was not able to do at Dartmouth."

Even Strohbehn said he was shocked by his own decision.

"I was as surprised as anybody," he said, lifting his arms into the air as if surrendering. "When I stepped down I was enthusiastic about returning to teaching and doing research.

"This happened just as everything was just pulling together," he added, referring to the new course on global warming he designed on his sabbatical and was scheduled to teach in the fall.

That course will be scrapped, Hutchinson said.

In an interview with The Dartmouth on Oct. 12, 1993, Strohbehn said, "Some people want to be administrators. I never did."

On Saturday, Strohbehn said he thought he would be teaching at Dartmouth until he was 70 years old.

But, Strohbehn said, the opportunity to take the job at Duke was too great to resist.

He said he did not apply for the job, but the search committee contacted him in late January or early February.

"It was a very hard decision," he said.

He said he hopes to teach a freshman seminar at Duke as well as pursue research. He said he was not able to do this at Dartmouth while he was provost because of his work on the $425-million Will to Excel Capital Campaign.

Pipes said Strohbehn might find that he will not have time to teach and do research for the first few years at Duke.

"It is possible, but his opportunities will be more limited than he expects -- particularly when he's just learning about Duke," he said. "In the early going he is going to have to turn his attention to learning the ropes."

Strohbehn's wife, Associate Dean of Students Barbara Strohbehn, will join him at Duke after Commencement in June.

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