National Science Foundation Director Steps Down | February 11, 2013 Issue - Vol. 91 Issue 6 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 91 Issue 6 | p. 6 | News of The Week
Issue Date: February 11, 2013 | Web Date: February 8, 2013

National Science Foundation Director Steps Down

Subra Suresh says an offer to lead Carnegie Mellon University prompted his decision
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: NSF, Subra Suresh, Carnegie Mellon University
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
This is a photo of NSF Director Subra Suresh. Taken Jan. 4, 2012.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

In an unexpected move, the director of the National Science Foundation, Subra Suresh, announced last week that he will leave the agency in March to become president of Carnegie Mellon University in July.

Suresh’s departure comes less than two-and-a-half years into the set six-year term for an NSF director. It is a presidential appointment that is then approved by the Senate.

Suresh tells C&EN he wasn’t planning to leave the agency, but when the opportunity to lead CMU came up, he couldn’t say no. “This is a very good match between my background and my aspirations for higher education and that of CMU,” he says. He had been dean of MIT’s School of Engineering before coming to NSF.

“We have all been very fortunate to have had Dr. Suresh’s leadership at NSF for these past few years,” says Geraldine L. Richmond, a chemistry professor at the University of Oregon and a member of the National Science Board, NSF’s oversight body. She admits she was surprised by the announcement. “He’s assisted in developing a number of new programs and has been a visionary leader in helping the agency take on a more international perspective on many of its programs and initiatives.”

Others weren’t as surprised. W. Carl Lineberger, a chemistry professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an NSB member, points out that “Subra’s name has been on many high-level search lists in the past, and his spectacular performance at NSF only elevates his standing. CMU is an outstanding university and is an exceptional match for his long-term objectives. One cannot choose the timing of such events.”

Suresh announced his resignation in an agency memo dated Feb. 5. He cited a number of accomplishments including programs and activities involving new models for global engagement by the agency and efforts to foster innovation by the scientific community.

Suresh’s departure comes as all federal agencies are operating without a final 2013 budget and bracing for automatic, across-the-board budget cuts—the so-called sequestration—set to kick in on March 1 (see page 26). Although those cuts will be painful if they happen, Suresh says the uncertainty of not having a budget is a greater concern.

“Lingering uncertainty is not good for the country, and hopefully there will be a solution to this very soon,” he says.

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