Dean Ray Jayawardhana
Ray Jayawardhana, The Harold Tanner Dean of Arts & Sciences

Ray Jayawardhana

The Harold Tanner Dean of Arts & Sciences

Hans A. Bethe Professor and Professor of Astronomy


Ray Jayawardhana is the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Hans A. Bethe Professor and Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University.

As the leader of the largest and most academically diverse college at Cornell, he is responsible for an institution with over 520 professorial faculty, 400 academic professionals and staff, 4600 undergraduates and 1300 graduate students. The College offers 40 undergraduate majors and 35 graduate fields, and boasts a network of over 65,000 alumni. Within the past five years, applications to Arts & Sciences have risen by nearly 70% and the early-decision pool has more than doubled, resulting in the greatest selectivity and the highest yield in the College’s history.

Ray has positioned Arts & Sciences as “the nexus of discovery and impact,” and focused on strategic priorities in the areas of faculty renewal and support, research and creative excellence, academic innovation and student experience, and public engagement. He has overseen the recruitment of over 100 new faculty members and appointments to 60 endowed professorships. During Ray’s tenure, the College has garnered nearly $300 million in new gifts and commitments in support of these priorities. FY22 and FY23 yearly fund-raising totals are the highest on record.

Signature initiatives launched under Ray’s leadership include:

  • the Klarman Fellowships, a premier postdoctoral program for exceptional emerging researchers, renewed and expanded recently;
  • the New Frontier Grants for novel research projects with potential for transformative advances;
  • the Nexus Scholars program, to expand opportunities for undergraduate research with faculty;
  • the Humanities Scholars Program, a curated and mentored pathway through humanistic inquiry for select students;
  • the Distinguished Visiting Journalist program, to recognize excellence in journalism while fostering meaningful engagement between the media and the academy; and
  • the Arts Unplugged series of marquee events that bring the campus community and the public together around themes of broad interest.
  • the $110M renewal of the iconic McGraw Hall, the third oldest building on campus and home to History and Anthropology departments

On his watch, the College has adopted a new undergraduate curriculum, introduced first-year advising seminars to all entering students, implemented the highly coveted Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity, more than tripled funding for Summer Experience Grants, and enhanced career development support. Arts & Sciences has increased media engagement dramatically, more than quadrupling annual media hits and increasing placement of faculty op-eds. In recent years, tens of thousands of people have joined virtual public events organized by the College. 

Ray played a key role in establishing the new Cornell Brooks School of Public Policy and the “super-departments” of Sociology and Psychology and expanding Economics. Ray has also partnered with select deans and faculty across the university to formulate and lead three “big idea” initiatives –on climate, AI and quantum research.

Ray’s own research focuses on the diversity, origins and evolution of planetary systems as well as the formation and evolution of stars and brown dwarfs. In particular, his group uses the largest telescopes on the ground and in space to do ‘remote sensing’ of planets around other stars (“exoplanets”), with a view to investigating prospects for life in the universe. He is a core science team member for the NIRISS instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope, and his group leads a Gemini Observatory large program on high-resolution spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres. Ray is the co-author of 145+ refereed papers in scientific journals, with over 8300 total citations (h-index: 52, i10-index: 132 – according to NASA ADS), and the co-editor of two volumes of conference proceedings.

Ray is also an acclaimed writer whose articles have appeared in publications including The Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and Scientific American. His popular science book Strange New Worlds was the basis for “The Planet Hunters” television documentary on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.; his book Neutrino Hunters won the Canadian Science Writers Association’s Book Award. His latest, a picture book for children titled Child of the Universe published by Penguin Random House in 2020, received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal.

Ray’s research, writing and outreach have led to numerous accolades, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, Steacie Fellowship, Steacie Prize, McLean Award, Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard University, visiting professorships from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Stockholm University, University of Canterbury and the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance, Rutherford Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada, Nicholson Medal from the American Physical Society, and Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences. Asteroid (4668) Rayjay is named after him.

Before moving to Cornell, he served as the Dean of Science at York University, following a decade on the faculty at the University of Toronto. Prior to that, he held an assistant professorship at the University of Michigan and a Miller Research Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned a Ph.D. degree in astronomy from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Science degree in astronomy and physics from Yale University.

An avid traveler, he has visited more than 55 countries and all seven continents. His travels, for research and writing, have included numerous visits to mountaintop observatories in Chile and Hawaii, a meteorite collecting expedition in Antarctica, a parabolic flight with the European Space Agency, a solar eclipse chase in western Mongolia and a descent into a South African mine with geobiologists.

Beyond Cornell, Ray serves on the Board of Trustees of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Alumni Council of Harvard University's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and Steering Committee of the International Astronomical Union’s Division on Stars and Stellar Physics.

Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith

Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education


Michelle Smith is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. As Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education for the College of Arts & Sciences, Smith oversees the undergraduate student services spanning admissions, advising, and career development. She also provides oversight of the College’s undergraduate curriculum and serves as liaison to the university on the College’s undergraduate program.

Smith works in the field of discipline-based education research, which emphasizes teaching and learning in specific disciplines at the undergraduate level. Her work focuses on helping instructors identify concepts that are difficult to learn in biology courses, designing undergraduate biology curriculum materials, measuring what aspects of active learning make it an effective instructional tool, and determining how instructors can help students with the transition between high school and college STEM courses.

Rachel Bean

Rachel Bean

Senior Associate Dean for Math & Science


Rachel Bean is a Professor in the Department of Astronomy. As Senior Associate Dean in the College of Arts & Sciences, Bean oversees the physical and life sciences and mathematics disciplines, several interdisciplinary programs and the Diversity Council; serves as liaison to the university’s inter-college labs and science centers; and provides oversight for research funding in the College.

Bean’s research is in the field of cosmology, the study of how the universe began and evolved into what we see today. Her work focuses on extracting information about cosmological theories, of dark energy, the properties of gravity on cosmic scales and primordial inflation, using astrophysical observations of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) and large scale structure data (galaxies and clusters of galaxies).

Patrizia McBride

Patrizia McBride

Senior Associate Dean for Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs


Patrizia C. McBride is a Professor in the Department of German Studies.

McBride’s research spans German-language literature and culture from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, focusing especially on theories of modernity and modernism, the intersection of aesthetics, philosophy, and political theory, and visual and media studies. Her scholarship revolves around three main themes: the development of narrative within literary and visual media; the ways in which the reflection on art and society in the twentieth century contributed to the politicized practice of the avant-garde; and the increasing concern, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with understanding how literature and the arts are shaped by their material media.

Derk Pereboom

Derk Pereboom

Senior Associate Dean for Arts & Humanities


Derk Pereboom is the Susan Linn Sage Professor of Philosophy and Ethics in the Department of Philosophy at Cornell. As Senior Associate Dean for the Arts and Humanities, he oversees departments and programs in the arts and humanities, the J.S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, and the Harrison College Scholar Program.

Pereboom’s research focuses primarily on free will and the nature of mind. In his books Living without Free Will (Cambridge 2001) and Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life (Oxford 2014) Pereboom defends and develops Spinoza’s view that we lack the sort of free will at issue in the traditional debate, but that this does not threaten the most important features of morality and meaning in life, and has the potential to enhance social harmony. In Consciousness and the Prospects of Physicalism (Oxford 2011), he sets out and explores two options for naturalist accounts of consciousness, each inspired by ideas proposed by Kant. Pereboom is deeply committed to graduate and undergraduate education, and he is the recipient of several teaching awards.

Senior Staff

Position Name Contact
Associate Dean of Administration Warren Petrofsky 607-255-1097
Associate Dean for Alumni Affairs and Development Esther Feng 607-255-8478
Director of Admissions Irene Lessmeister 607-255-4833
Director of Advising Ray Kim 607-255-4833
Director of Administration/Registrar Duncan Bell 607-255-5004
Director of Career Development Jennifer Maclaughlin 607-255-4166
Director of Communications Tricia Ritterbusch  607-255-7165
Senior Administrator to the Dean Adrienne Clay