Gretchen Ritter ’83 told students on Friday that she is stepping down as the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences with the conclusion of her five-year term at Cornell, slated for the end of June 2018. Ritter is the first female dean of the College and a third-generation Cornellian.
Following her leave next fall, Ritter will return to teaching and research as a faculty member in the Government Department.
Ritter managed the transition to the University’s new budget model during her first year and has led Cornell through a period in which colleges were experiencing a significant reduction in funding as the University addressed its structural deficit, Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff wrote to Arts and Sciences faculty. In fiscal year 2017, she secured the second highest level of gifts and commitments in the College’s history, at $66 million.
Ritter also launched the Future Faculty Initiative, a campaign for new faculty endowments that will boost the College’s ability to hire faculty in the coming years, and provided support to new interdisciplinary research initiatives in areas such as media studies and neurotechnology, he wrote.
“There is nothing I have enjoyed more than spending time meeting with students, as an advisor, a teacher and a collaborator on ways we can improve your undergraduate education,” Ritter told students. “I consider our educational mission to be among the most important contributions that we make to society.”
Ritter was also involved in creating the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity — the first undergraduate program to partner with Cornell Tech and an opportunity to make liberal arts and sciences education central to the digital age.
Her research focuses on the history of women’s Constitutional rights as well as studies on contemporary issues concerning democracy and citizenship in American politics, according to her biography. Ritter has also contributed to research on efforts to reduce college achievement gaps that include intervention strategies and the exploration of new learning models in higher education.
For the remainder of her tenure, Ritter will continue to support the curriculum review process and to explore new approaches to strengthen the student advising structure. She will also focus on how the College can enhance Cornell’s public engagement mission and rebuild the social compact that sustains higher education’s contribution to democracy, Kotlikoff wrote.
Ritter received her B.A. in government from Cornell and a Ph.D. in political science from MIT. She previously served as vice provost and professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, and has also taught at MIT, Princeton and Harvard.
“For you, I only ask that you go and change the world, for the better,” she told students.