Nishii, Fontaine appointed to academic leadership

By: Daniel Aloi,  Cornell Chronicle
December 1, 2017

Two faculty members have been appointed to leadership roles overseeing student success, learning, diversity and curriculum initiatives at Cornell, Provost Michael Kotlikoff announced Dec. 1.

Lisa Nishii, associate professor of human resource studies, was appointed vice provost for undergraduate education. Classics professor Michael Fontaine has been named associate vice provost.

“In her 14 years at Cornell, Lisa has had extensive engagement with many aspects of the university, and she has done important research and administrative work dealing with campus and workplace climate, and diversity and inclusion,” Kotlikoff said. “In her new role, her expertise and energy will benefit our students’ academic success and well-being.”

“Michael Fontaine, a passionate and highly effective teacher, will be instrumental as we continue to develop and apply a universitywide perspective on academic programs to help shape a common Cornell experience, and enhance the classroom experience in our ‘gateway’ courses,” he said.

Nishii’s primary responsibilities will involve oversight of academic student success and academic diversity programs (including the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives, the Learning Strategies Center and the Intergroup Dialogue Project), living-learning initiatives on West and North Campus, accreditation and assessment of student learning, and academic integrity.

Nishii is a co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Campus Climate, leading the Campus Experience subcommittee, which dovetails with her new responsibilities as well as her scholarly interests.

“My primary research is on organizational climate as it relates to diversity and inclusion,” she said. “There is a good alignment between the work of the task force and my role, which I hope will result in a more seamless, long-term implementation of the [task force] recommendations.”

Fontaine will report to Nishii and Vice Provost for Academic Innovation Julia Thom-Levy in his new role. His primary responsibilities include oversight of the Gateway Course Initiative, to ensure that students’ experience with large, foundational courses are consistent in terms of access, pedagogy, outcomes and facilities. Efforts toward a universitywide academic perspective will involve analysis and oversight of curricula – including developing courses or activities that create a shared Cornell experience for students across a diverse college campus.

Both positions begin effective Jan. 1, 2018. Nishii’s term is through June 30, 2022; while Fontaine’s is through June 30, 2020. Nishii’s appointment fills the position previously held by Rebecca Stoltzfus, who stepped down in August. John Siciliano served as interim vice provost for undergraduate education this semester and will remain deputy provost.

Nishii joined Cornell in 2003 and was named associate professor in 2011. Her teaching appointments in the ILR School are in the Departments of Human Resource Studies and International and Comparative Labor. She has a bachelor’s in economics from Wellesley College (1994), and a master’s (2000) and doctorate (2003) from the University of Maryland in industrial and organizational psychology.

Her undergraduate teaching has included courses on diversity, discrimination and inclusion in organizations; a writing seminar on cross-cultural perspectives on work; an engaged learning course with a field component in Nicaragua; and a variety of management and human resources topics. She also teaches graduate and executive courses. Her Cornell honors include the Kendall S. Carpenter Memorial Advising Award (2010), and the ILR School’s Robert N. Stern Teaching and Mentoring Award (2009) and MacIntyre Award for Exemplary Teaching (2004).

Nishii said serving on a wide range of university committees has “reinforced for me the importance – and my intrinsic enjoyment – of a collaborative approach to leadership within our decentralized structure at Cornell.“

She currently directs ILR International Programs, and during her term as vice provost she will maintain a partial ILR appointment and focus on continuing her research.

“I am enthusiastic about the teaching and learning priorities of the university, all the cool and ambitious research being conducted by our faculty, and the breadth of related learning opportunities for students,” Nishii said. “Consistent with our land-grant mission, I strongly believe that public engagement should be fully integrated into the curriculum, alongside the growing integration of global learning opportunities.”

Fontaine joined the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences as an assistant professor in 2004, and was named associate professor in 2010 and full professor this year. He has served as associate dean of the faculty (2012-16) and was acting dean in 2016.

In addition to serving in the vice provost’s office, he said he is “fully committed and eager” to continue teaching (one course a semester rather than two), and will maintain his departmental committee responsibilities and other scholarly activity.

“Undergraduate education provides the foundation for living well and doing good, and, to quote former President Hunter Rawlings, Cornell has an opportunity to become the greatest research university for undergraduates in the world,” Fontaine said. “I am eager to work with the vice provosts to improve access to our gateway courses, to enhance opportunities for success in them, and to support faculty efforts to make them as effective as possible.”

Fontaine earned a bachelor’s from Millsaps College (1998) and a doctorate in classics from Brown University (2003). His undergraduate teaching centers on the major authors of Latin and Greek literature, and Roman society. He also leads a course in conversational Latin and co-teaches a popular University Course on wine culture from antiquity to the present day.

His research interests include Latin literature and stage comedy from antiquity through the Renaissance; and classical ideas about the mind, jokes, psychiatry and mental illness. Fontaine’s current project is “How to Fall in Love,” a translation of Ovid’s “Ars Amatoria” for the millennial generation.

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