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SESP Dean David Figlio named provost at the University of Rochester

david figlio
David Figlio is an acclaimed researcher and economist.

The University of Rochester today named David Figlio as its next provost, effective July 1, 2022.

Figlio, an acclaimed researcher and economist, has served as dean of Northwestern’s highly ranked School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) since 2017. He will complete his term on May 15, 2022, and Northwestern will name an interim dean in the coming weeks. A former director of the Institute for Policy Research (IPR), Figlio has been the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and an IPR fellow since 2008. 

At Northwestern, Figlio has been known for his research and intellectual vision, his teaching, his collaborative leadership and his ability to form deep and productive partnerships within communities. 

“Northwestern profoundly shaped and influenced my research and academic identity,” Figlio said. “It’s the place where I began working on new problems, using new methods and theoretical frames, and working with colleagues from a variety of fields. It is where I truly embraced being an interdisciplinary scholar.”

Scholar and leader

In 2017 he was elected to the National Academy of Education for his innovative work on the economics of K-12 and higher education. His scholarship also examines a range of education, public and social policy issues, including the link between health and education. 

“David Figlio is a rare combination of scholar and leader — someone who brings the highest levels of wisdom and compassion to his work as a teacher, researcher and administrator,” said President Morton Schapiro. “He’s been essential to the development of SESP, and he will be an outstanding provost at Rochester. At a personal level, I will dearly miss this wonderful collaborator and friend.”

During his tenure at both the School of Education and Social Policy and the Institute for Policy Research, Figlio has recruited and nurtured extraordinary faculty who reflect the diversity of Northwestern students and local communities.

His focus on building a solid infrastructure fosters conditions that help students, faculty and staff do exceptional scholarly and creative work. 

“We congratulate David Figlio on his appointment as provost at the University of Rochester,” said Provost Kathleen Hagerty. “For more than four years, he has led Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy by cultivating a vibrant and welcoming intellectual community through the recruitment, support and retention of a diverse and stellar faculty and the establishment of deep and impactful programs and partnerships. David’s combination of creativity, ambition, energy, compassion and commitment to social justice will serve him well in his new role.”

Working “with” the community

Figlio is well known for building deep and meaningful community partnerships and working closely with individual and institutional partners in Evanston and Chicago. The partnerships, which include the Northwestern Evanston Education Research Alliance (NEERA) and the Center for Education Efficacy, Excellence, and Equity (E4), bring together Northwestern’s missions of service, research and teaching. 

One of Figlio’s guiding principles stresses doing things “with” community members, rather than “to” or “for” them—an approach respected by many collaborators. He is both an inspirational and approachable leader, said Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of Evanston Township High School (ETHS) District 202.

“His enthusiastic, genuine, visionary leadership has motivated so many of us to partner in the forward-looking initiatives he has led; that has moved SESP ahead in imaginative and significant ways,” Witherspoon said. “He is a rare and remarkable scholar and person.”

Before joining Northwestern, Figlio held faculty appointments at the University of Oregon and the University of Florida, where he was the Knight-Ridder Professor of Economics. He is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); a research fellow of the IZA Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn, Germany; a member of the CESifo Network on the Economics of Education in Munich, Germany; and an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

At the University of Rochester, Figlio will hold a primary appointment in the Department of Economics and a joint professorship at the Warner School of Education. The university’s chief academic officer, he will be working closely with University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf, who served as dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University from 2008 until 2014.  

“The opportunity to collaborate again with Sarah was irresistible,” said Figlio, who collaborated with Mangelsdorf when he was director of the Institute for Policy Research. “It was the combination of the chance to work at Rochester, and to work with and for Sarah, that makes the position incredibly exciting.” 

Foundations in Evanston

Figlio leaves a legacy of relationship building between the University and Evanston. He has worked tirelessly to create foundations that would outlast his 14 years at Northwestern. 

“David has had a dynamic impact on so many of us, and I personally consider it a privilege to have worked closely with him, to have learned from him, to have partnered professionally with him, and to have befriended him,” Witherspoon said. “The University of Rochester will flourish with him as the provost. Northwestern, our Evanston community, ETHS, and I will miss him dearly.” 

Julie Deardorff is director of communications and outreach in the School of Education and Social Policy.

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