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20 years later, new provost gets job at Hopkins

Robert C. Lieberman applied for his first job at the Johns Hopkins University as a brand-new Harvard University graduate in 1994.

Robert Lieberman

Robert C. Lieberman

At the time, Hopkins was seeking a new political science professor and took a pass on the Boston-area native and his fresh doctorate.

But when Lieberman surfaced again almost 20 years later — this time as a candidate for one of the top administrative jobs at Hopkins — he did not have to relive the disappointment of 1994.

Lieberman, the interim dean at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, will become Hopkins’ 14th provost and senior vice president for academic affairs on July 1.

The university’s new chief academic officer has no hard feelings about that first interview.

“You know, that’s the business,” Lieberman said Monday. “Baltimore, it seems like an exciting place to be coming to. Like Columbia, it’s an urban university, it’s integrated into the city, so it gives the university a level of energy and excitement that’s really exciting to me.”

Lieberman, 48, was selected after a national search that had been underway since late September, after former Hopkins Provost Lloyd B. Minor left to become dean of medicine at Stanford University, a Hopkins spokesman said.

A pair of university deans — David Andrews of the School of Education and Michael J. Klag of the Bloomberg School of Public Health — led the search and recommended a handful of candidates, including Lieberman, to Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels, who made the final decision.

In a statement, Daniels said Lieberman had an “‘excellence gene’ that will make him a wonderful partner.” Klag agreed.

“He’s bright, intelligent, he’s someone for this position who’s on the younger side, but who has had considerable leadership experience,” Klag said. “It needs to be somebody who is a distinguished scholar and who is intelligent and can win the respect of the faculty. He definitely has that.”

Lieberman, a professor of political science and public affairs at Columbia, has worked at the university since 1994. By 2007, he was made a department chair and in 2009 was named vice dean for academic affairs before being named to his current position more than a year ago.

“I wasn’t looking to leave Columbia,” Lieberman said. “Once in a while, a job comes along that is compelling because it’s a great university that I really would like to work at and an opportunity to do something that seems very valuable.”

He said he already knows several Hopkins faculty members, but with nine schools soon to be under his purview, he has plenty more to meet.

“Coming from the outside, I need to spend time in the first six months to a year really learning the place, learning the people, learning the culture,” Lieberman said. “From what I’ve seen, the university’s already in extremely good hands.”

Lieberman, a 1986 graduate of Yale University, is recognized by academics as an expert on race and politics in America, social welfare policy and the welfare state. He’s the third consecutive dean at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs to become provost at another university.

In a statement, Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger thanked Lieberman for his “scholarship and his skill as a senior administrator.”