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Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau leaving for Saudi Arabia post

February 19, 2013 | 11:59 am

Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau greets a graduate at his inauguration ceremony, which was at the start of commencement in 2007. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

The president of Caltech, Jean-Lou Chameau, announced Tuesday that he would step down as head of that prestigious Pasadena institution at the end of the school year and become head of a university in Saudi Arabia.

Chameau, a French-born civil engineer, has been president of Caltech since 2006 and previously was provost at Georgia Tech. He succeeded David Baltimore, a Nobel laureate biologist, and helped Caltech achieve greater financial stability despite the recession and a period of retrenchment at many colleges. Chameau also advocated for a stronger role for women in the science and technology fields.

In a statement released Tuesday, Chameau said he would become president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. 

His seven-year term at Caltech is considered a normal length in American academia.
During his tenure, the school topped the list of the Britain-based Times (of London) Higher Education World University Rankings in 2011 and 2012. Its work in physics, astronomy, chemistry, medicine and other fields has made it a home of Nobel laureates and a magnet for some of the brightest students in the world.  With only about 980 undergraduates and 1,250 graduate students, the admissions process is extremely competitive.

In looking back over his Caltech time, Chameau said: “The most important accomplishments, to me, are the achievements of our faculty and students. ... They join talented colleagues who share their commitment to excellence and desire to have a disproportionate impact on science and society. The discoveries, recognition, and impact of the Caltech faculty in a typical year are the envy of our peers."

Chameau said the Saudi university known as KAUST “is positioned to have a dramatic impact on the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and the world. For that reason, it is more than a university. It is an undertaking of historic importance.”

Caltech is in stronger position than it was a few years ago and Chameau was vital to that, according to David Lee, chair of the school’s board of trustees. “President Chameau has served Caltech with excellence and distinction, stimulating innovation and expanding resources for high-risk, high-reward research,” said Lee, who added that a search for a replacement would be launched soon.

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-- Larry Gordon

Photo: Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau greets a graduate at his inauguration ceremony, which was at the start of commencement in 2007. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

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