By Mary Clarke-Pearson
March 19, 2002
Vice Provost of Information Systems and Computing James O'Donnell has been tapped to become provost of Georgetown University. As the chief academic and administrative officer for Georgetown's main campus, O'Donnell will be responsible for all undergraduate and graduate programs, with the exception of the law and medical schools. He will replace Dorothy Brown, Georgetown's current provost, effective July 1.
"Georgetown is a first rate university and one of Penn's closest competitors," O'Donnell said. "I've appreciated their excellence at a distance for some time, and I'm thrilled with the opportunity."
Since he first came to Penn in 1981, O'Donnell has held a variety of academic and administrative positions. In addition to heading up ISC, O'Donnell currently serves as a professor of Classical Studies and is the faculty master of Hill College House.
Georgetown President John DeGioia, who was also recently appointed to his post, said that O'Donnell's experience in both academic and administrative areas will be an asset to him in his new position.
"Jim is an established scholar, talented teacher and effective administrator," he said in a statement. "His unique combination of distinguished scholarship and administrative leadership will make him a dynamic and effective provost at Georgetown."
Since the beginning of the semester both Executive Vice President John Fry and former Law School Dean Colin Diver have announced their decisions to leave Penn to take on higher posts at other universities.
Fry will leave at the end of June to assume the presidency at Franklin and Marshall College, while Diver will officially become the president of Reed College in Oregon in July.
Provost Robert Barchi said that these losses of top administrators is a reflection of the quality of personel that are spawned at Penn.
"If you look around, we are one of the institutions that produces the academic leaders of America," Barchi said. "One of the things that I look for are who the feeder schools are for other universities' faculty and staff -- currently, it's Harvard, Princeton and Penn."
Barchi said that the process of filling O'Donnell's vacant position is still in its initial stages.
"Jim's announcement was recent," Barchi said. "We're going to have to step back and think about the institution's needs and what has changed since he was appointed."
As a classics professor, O'Donnell has been widely published with works on the cultural history of the Mediterranean world and was the co-founder of the Bryn Mawr Classical Review in 1990.
On the other side of the academic spectrum, O'Donnell is a recognized innovator in the application of networked information technology, which has been reflected in his work at ISC.
O'Donnell said that he is looking forward to using his experience at Penn and in his multiple fields of expertise as a springboard for his new position.
"The new [Georgetown] president is building a team, and the mission is pretty straightforward -- to take a really solid institution and to see what we can do to make it better," O'Donnell said.
In addition to fulfilling his responsibilities as provost, O'Donnell said that he is looking forward to using Georgetown's location in a politically-active city to enhance the intellectual life on campus.
"I think that even post 9-11, going forward, people are reconnecting with the importance of understanding America's place in the world," O'Donnell said. "You can build on that for things that are of high academic quality for students."
Barchi said he believes O'Donnell's wide range of knowledge has allowed him to interact with the Penn community on several different levels.
"Jim is one of the most respected classical scholars in the country and has the additional talent as an innovator in the information sciences," Barchi said.
Deputy Provost Peter Conn noted that O'Donnell's widespread work at Penn is reflective of his talent as both a leader and a scholar.
"Jim is among the most gifted and accomplished members of our community and he will be sorely missed," Conn said in an e-mail statement. "At the same time, I am delighted that he has been given the opportunity to assume the Georgetown post, a position that will enable him to play a central role in guiding the future of a superb university."
Even O'Donnell himself said that his 21 years at Penn will be hard to forget.
"I've grown to cherish this place and will still do so," O'Donnell said. "And I'll try to refrain from pointing out any of Georgetown's successes on the basketball court to my friends here."