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Updated: Kulkarni appointed Dean of the Graduate School

Electrical engineering professor Sanjeev Kulkarni has been appointed the new dean of the Graduate School, the University announced Monday morning.

Kulkarni succeeds William Russel, who announced his retirement last September. His appointment is effective March 31, although Russel was originally scheduled to retire at the end of the academic year.

Kulkarni has served as director of the Keller Center since 2011 and was also master of Butler College from 2004 to 2012. Kulkarni joined the University faculty in 1991; he is currently Professor of Electrical Engineering and an affiliated faculty member of the departments of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and Philosophy. He also served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science from 2003 to 2005.

Kulkarni could not be reached for comment and Russel declined to comment for this story.

As dean, Kulkarni will report to Provost David Lee GS ’99. Although the two served as faculty in different departments, they have interacted a few times since Lee became provost.

“We talked about the Keller Center and the great work that he’s been doing, and ideas about how entrepreneurship can be supported on campus,” Lee said. “At the same time, in my interactions with other cabinet officers and administrators, you hear his name come up as someone who’s a great partner, who cuts across fields and works well with both academic and administrative units. I was obviously very pleased to see his name emerge from the pool of candidates.”

Lee was also initially involved in the search process for the new Graduate School dean.

“President Eisgruber and I formed the search committee, which included both faculty and graduate students. We wanted to make sure that we had a good representation of people in the university community who had a stake in the next dean. We charged them with identifying candidates, but the real work of reviewing candidates was done by the committee itself,” he said.

The search committee for a new dean was formed shortly after Russel announced his retirement, and was chaired by electrical engineering professor and vice dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science Claire Gmachl.

“We met with all the constituents that have a stake in who the dean is and we listened to them, what they thought were the challenges, the opportunities for the graduate school, short-term but also long-term. We also reached out to the whole University community to give us feedback,” Gmachl said of the selection process.

Last September, she said that the committee hoped to find a new dean before the end of the fall semester.

“We took all the time we needed to take,” Gmachl said. “We planned it for the end of the semester, but didn’t force it; it more fortuitously worked out that way.”

Gmachl spoke highly of Kulkarni and said he will be an “outstanding” dean.

Graduate Student Government president Friederike Funk, who was a member of the search committee, said she considers Kulkarni “the perfect choice.

She explained she thought Kulkarni “would create bonds within the graduate school and between graduate students, without creating barriers to other groups on campus.”

“Princeton is already a very great place of learning and personal growth, but he will be the person to make it an even greater place in the future,” she added.

Funk also said that the graduate students face a number of “challenges for the future,” and Kulkarni can help the graduate school reach its potential.

“He needs to address graduate student housing. I think the quality of graduate student housing is great. The University is doing a wonderful renovation of the apartment complex, but I think the quantity remains a topic he needs to revisit because there are more graduate students than the 70 percent that Princeton has committed to house that would like to be part of the campus community,” Funk said.

Last November, graduate students circulated a petition opposing the demolition of Butler Apartments. The petition argued that the demolition, part of the University’s Housing Master Plan, would create excessive pressure on older students whose stipends are ending and on Princeton’s limited housing market.

Funk also said the dean should continue the pursuit of academic excellence, vibrant campus life and career development for graduate students.

“Career development in and outside of academia is a very important topic that also goes with the appointment of the new executive director of Career Services, so it is important to start early to prepare students for the jobs that they choose, in and outside of academia, and to give them the tools and to learn the skills that they need,” Funk said.

Kulkarni has also been lauded for his teaching abilities. Both Bryan Bosworth ’09 and Eric Cohen ’10 described him as an approachable, charismatic professor who made ELE 201: Information and Signals, a requirement for concentrators, interesting and relevant.

“The thing that I liked about his class the most was that, when he was teaching us these basic concepts in information theory and stuff like that, he taught us about JPEG and data compression, which are ubiquitous. It was really worthwhile stuff to learn about, and you don’t see it nearly as much in textbooks or other resources,” Bosworth said. “He was actually writing the course material for that class.

“I remember that he would come around in our labs and kind of check on how we were doing,” Cohen said. “That was kind of fun, to have that nice professor interaction and to have him just generally be an approachable, relaxed presence.”

Cohen chose Kulkarni to be his thesis advisor based on his positive experience in ELE 201.

“When I was trying to come up with a thesis topic, I was thinking, ‘Oh, who were professors that I liked?’ that had good demeanors or whatever, and I asked Kulkarni if he was available to do a thesis project, and he said yeah!” Cohen said.

Both Cohen and Bosworth said Kulkarni went out of his way to be accessible to students.

“I made a poor assumption on when the final project was due,” Bosworth said, “and he was very nice about letting me turn it in late.”

Kulkarni will begin his deanship on March 31 to give him time to prepare for end-of-year activities and to shape the new class.

“That’s when you look at who’s going to graduate this year, and you have time to prepare for graduation activities. At the same time, you’re looking at the new class that’s coming in, and you have time to shape their preparation and the material that gets sent to them,” Gmachl said.

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