In order to go on sabbatical and then return to Boston University the following year as a physics professor, BU Vice President and Associate Provost for Research Andrei Ruckenstein said he has decided to resign from his position.
Computer science professor Azer Bestavros said Ruckenstein’s greatest attribute was his ability to plan ahead for the long-term future.
“One thing about Andrei, and this is probably what made him so special in that position, is that he thinks big,” Bestavros said. “He is not about incremental research projects, but he likes to think big. In a way, many of the things I talked to him about have that nature — transformative, risky research that brings lots of people together to go after a big challenge.”
Ruckenstein has held his current position since 2007 and was the first person to hold the title of associate provost for research, according to an April 23 press release. He will step down at the end of the 2012-13 academic year and will return to teaching physics after his sabbatical leave.
University Provost Jean Morrison said in the release that Ruckenstein was crucial to the development of much research and many programs during his time at the Office of the Provost.
“The growth and evolution of BU’s national research presence during the six years of Andrei’s leadership … has advanced from a simple presentation of sponsored science and engineering research projects into a crucial window into the enormous breadth and depth of Boston University’s innovative scholarship and research across all disciplines,” she said.
BU President Robert Brown and Morrison asked Ruckenstein to remain a part of the conversations surrounding systems biology research while he is on sabbatical, according to the release.
Morrison said in the release that she will consult with officials and she hopes to name a successor by the end of the 2012-13 academic year.
“As Boston University continues to advance as a highly competitive research university in an evolving climate that includes uncertainty about the levels of federal support for research, we must all redouble our efforts to ensure the vibrancy and effectiveness of our research enterprise,” she said. “I look forward to working together to ensure the strength of all our research activities.”
In November, under Ruckenstein’s leadership as associate provost for research, BU joined the Association of American Universities, a prestigious, invitation-only organization of major research institutions.
Bestavros said Ruckenstein strived to foster new methods and new forms of research during his time at BU, a quality Bestavros said he has not seen within people holding the same position at other major universities.
“It’s not about getting the next research paper out [with Andrei] — it’s really about changing the way we do research,” Bestavros said. “If I want to put it all in one sentence, it would be that he is a big believer in getting people to break barriers and to think differently.”
Ruckenstein said he hopes his decision to step down from his position will allow both he and BU officials time to explore new avenues.
“I joined BU in 2007 as the university’s first Vice President and Associate Provost for Research,” he said in an email. “Over six years, we’ve accomplished a great deal, and I’ve been proud and inspired to be part of President [Robert] Brown’s team. A change in leadership will allow the university, and me, to explore some fresh directions and ideas.”
Due to Ruckenstein’s background in science, Bestavros said he was well respected and trusted by BU officials and administrators.
“He can do that [think big] because people appreciate him doing that because he himself is a scientist,” Bestavros said. “I’ve seen other people and have worked with other people in such positions at other universities over the past few years and you can tell that Andrei is highly respected for his perspective on research and the technical side of it.”
Bestavros said Ruckenstein was easy to work with and always had something to say. He said they often conversed about innovations in science.
“Even though he’s not himself a computer scientist, we did talk a lot about interesting problems in computer science … that he’s helping me with,” he said. “As a scientist and a leader in trying to do big transformative research, that is one of his attributes.”