Thomas James, dean of UNC’s School of Education for four years, is closing the book on Carolina and starting a new chapter in his career at Columbia University.
James will take over as provost at Columbia University’s Teachers College, named the No. 1 education graduate school nationwide by the editors of U.S. News & World Report. James also will teach in the department of arts and humanities and will hold the accompanying title of dean and vice president for academic affairs, starting July 1.
James said he considered studying and teaching education at the university in New York City a great opportunity with far-reaching importance for education.
“I believe New York City reflects the opportunities and also the problems of our civilization in their most concentrated and intense form,” he said. “If we can engage the human prospect through education in New York, our work truly can be of national and worldwide significance.”
James was hired to come to UNC in 2003 by former provost Robert Shelton. During his time at Carolina, the School of Education has increased its research funding, generated more field-based research in communities and schools, placed more of its teacher education programs in public schools, forged new ties with policymakers at the state and federal levels and established bonds with other policymakers at the University.
“I think the key features that Tom brought to the School of Education were first, he gave it a much higher profile around the state,” Shelton said. “Premier schools of education like the one at Chapel Hill are often accused, it’s often felt they’re interested at looking inwards – doing theory – instead of getting out in the school districts.
“I thought Tom did a terrific job in forging new alliances, making new collaborations available between his faculty in education and faculty in some of the basic disciplines in the college of arts and sciences.”
A Wisconsin native, James earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University, specializing in the history of education. He previously was vice dean and professor of education history at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education and was a tenured professor at Brown University.
“He brings a combination of strength and gentleness to this position that will be of great benefit to Teachers College, and we’re confident that he will set the very highest academic standards,” said Susan Fuhrman, president of Teachers College.
“We saw candid, forthright presentations by the three excellent candidates, who also fielded – at times, courageously – questions about everything from their academic backgrounds to how they would promote ethnic and racial diversity in faculty searches.”