John D. Simon (Christa Neu/Courtesy of Lehigh University)

John D. Simon named 14th president of Lehigh University


*This story was updated at 1:10 p.m.*

The Board of Trustees has appointed John D. Simon, the executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, the 14th president of Lehigh University.

Simon’s appointment is the culmination of an eight-month search process during which a committee of trustees, administration, faculty and students reviewed more than 250 candidates. The committee was led by Interim President Kevin Clayton and Vice Chair of the Board Jane Jamieson. Simon will take office at the university July 1, 2015.

Chair of the Board Brad Scheler announced Simon’s appointment in an email to the Lehigh community Friday morning, calling him an “outstanding choice to serve as president.” Scheler informed the community that there will be opportunities for them to meet Simon in the coming months.

“I could not be more proud that John Simon will become Lehigh’s 14th president,” Scheler said in a statement released by the university. “Having had the pleasure of getting to know John during the search process, and having spoken with him at length about his vision for Lehigh, I have no doubt that he is the right choice to lead this university as we begin to celebrate our 150-year history.”

Henry Coppee became Lehigh's first president in 1866. John D. Simon was named Lehigh's 14th president on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014.

TIMELINE: The history of Lehigh University’s presidents.

Simon has served as UVA’s provost since 2011, responsible for overseeing the academic administration of its 11 schools, as well as the library, art museums, public service activities and global initiatives. He directed 20,000 undergraduate students and 2,200 faculty and managed an academic budget of $1.4 billion. While at UVA, he also served as the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Chemistry.

Clayton told Lehigh University News that Simon stood out as the best fit for the university.

“Our goal from the start of the search process was to identify a candidate who would step onto campus with an understanding of what makes Lehigh great, how Lehigh can be better, and how everyone in the university community can contribute to its success going forward,” he said in a released statement.

During Simon’s time at UVA, he was deeply involved in jumpstarting global initiatives, the most significant of which included the creation of a new major in global studies and the opening of a campus in Asia. His other achievements consist of the creation of UVA’s Endowment for the Arts and the launch of both the school’s Data Science Institute and the Advanced Research Institute.

One of his most respected mentors is UVA President Teresa Sullivan, he said in a Q&A with Lehigh University. Simon has been instrumental in Sullivan’s career, as well.

In June of 2012, Sullivan was forced to resign after a disagreement with one of the university’s board leaders. Simon, who had only been working at UVA for nine months at the time, defended Sullivan.

According to a Dec. 12, 2012, article from The Washington Post, in a speech in front of 500 faculty, Simon publicly rejected the board’s decision and threatened to resign if he did not feel its actions were just. This bold move from Simon ultimately contributed to the movement that led to Sullivan’s reinstatement.

“John has an abiding commitment to academic excellence,” Sullivan said in a statement to Lehigh. “Working in close collaboration with the faculty, staff, students and academic leadership, his support of our mission of teaching, research, patient care and service has positioned the university for even greater success.”

Prior to his service at UVA, Simon served as the vice provost for academic affairs at Duke University for six years and chaired Duke’s chemistry department for five years. Simon has also served as a chemistry professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Simon received his bachelor’s in chemistry from Williams College in 1979 and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1983. His most recent research has focused on the structure and function of human pigmentation.

Simon’s wife, Diane Szaflarski, will take on a role at Lehigh, as well. Currently an associate professor at UVA’s School of Nursing, she will teach as a professor of practice at the university. The Simons have two sons.

Scheler closed his email to the Lehigh community with words of gratitude for Clayton.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to offer our deepest thanks to Kevin Clayton once again for his selfless service and steady leadership as interim president,” he wrote. “Since his arrival in August, Kevin has done nothing short of an exemplary job guiding Lehigh during this time of transition.”

Simon’s appointment coincides with Lehigh’s 136th Founder’s Day, which will be celebrated in Packer Chapel later this afternoon.

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