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  August 28, 2000

Petersen Prepared to Make
Tough Decisions in Support of Quality

Late one summer evening in early July, a campus police officer doing his rounds noticed a light on in Gulley Hall. Wanting to make sure nothing was amiss, he knocked on the door. The man who answered produced only a Michigan driver's license, so the officer - appropriately - called headquarters to confirm the accuracy of the story. "Yes," responded the duty officer, "he's bona fide. John Petersen is our new chancellor."

Petersen does not intend to remain unknown for long. Since he arrived at UConn on June 26, he has spent many 18-hour days on campus, familiarizing himself with the University and meeting with members of the UConn community.

The new chancellor joins the University from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., where he was dean of the college of science. He says he was attracted to UConn because it is the top public research university in the northeast.

"I've spent all my life at public research universities and all except the last six years at land grant institutions," he says. "I view this as a great opportunity to come to Connecticut's flagship institution and be an integral part of its continued quest for excellence."

As chancellor and provost for university affairs, Petersen, 52, is the chief academic officer for Storrs and the five regional campuses. He also is responsible for multicultural affairs, student affairs, technology and human resources. He takes over from Fred Maryanski, who has served as interim chancellor for the past year.

Petersen is impressed with the high quality of UConn's research, academic and non-academic programs. In addition, UConn 2000 has revitalized the campus. And the success of UConn's athletic programs has contributed to heightened national awareness of the University. Still, he says, there is room to grow.

The way to move forward, he says, is to identify institutional priorities and set short and long-term goals.

"We have to make sure we're meeting the needs of students, the community, and society," he says. "That means we must be strategic, focused and support quality. This includes making tough decisions about where we allocate our resources.

"I'm not a person who thinks that if there are extra resources, they should be spread across the board," he adds. "The leaders who are visionary and able to make tough decisions will receive my support."

Petersen says the institution's research mission is crucial: "We've made tremendous strides in the undergraduate program and I think there's a false perception that research has lost its importance in UConn's mission. I want to make sure that perception is put to rest," he says. "We are a research university and both words are operative."

As a Carnegie Doctoral/Research University-Extensive (a category previously known as Research I), he says, "UConn is a leading scholarly body playing a major role in the discovery of knowledge and in the artistic life and economic activities of the state, the region and the country. The University's roles in research and scholarship are unique to the select group of institutions to which it belongs."

An experienced researcher in the field of photochemistry, Petersen holds a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of California, Santa Barbara; began his academic career at Kansas State in 1975; and was promoted to full professor at Clemson in 1985.

He began his administrative activities in 1982 and has continued throughout the past 18 years to maintain an active research program. He will also hold a faculty appointment in chemistry here. "The Chancellor's job is a major undertaking," he says, "but I still would like to keep involved with science research."

Petersen will encourage everyone who works for the University to strive for excellence. Each person has an important contribution to make, he says: "A university is a collection of individuals who bring different skills to an institution. We need to recognize the role each one plays in the success of the institution. This includes technical, clerical, and professional staff as well as faculty and administrators. We need to recognize and reward quality at each of these levels."

He hopes to establish an inclusive environment: "We must make sure that what we do as an institution and the decisions we make are done through a process of involvement with the stakeholders," he says.

Petersen emphasizes the importance of communication: "My style of management is to make myself available to faculty, staff and students." He intends to spend a lot of time at the University involved in programs and issues of interest to various constituent groups.

A native of Los Angeles, he also has lived in Kansas, South Carolina, and Michigan, but this is the first time he has lived in New England. He looks forward to becoming a part of the UConn community and plans to live within walking distance of campus, eat in dining halls, and attend cultural and athletic events.

Last year Petersen, who served as faculty representative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association at Wayne State, sat on a committee to select a new mascot for the university's athletic programs.

But Husky fans can rest assured. "The Tartar was hard to sell, and that made the Warrior a good new mascot," he says. "But the Husky dog looks just fine."

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu