Benjamin Z. Houlton, director of the John Muir Institute of
the Environment and professor of global environmental studies at the
University of California, Davis, has been named the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of
the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), Cornell Provost
Michael I. Kotlikoff announced today.
appointment, effective Oct. 1, has been approved by the Executive Committee
of the Cornell University Board of Trustees and is pending ratification by
the State University of New York Board of Trustees. He also will be
appointed a professor in the Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary
Biology and of Global Development.An
accomplished environmental scientist, Houlton is recognized internationally
for research collaborations into ecosystem processes, solutions to
ameliorate climate change, and to improve carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus
cycles for energy and food production.
“Ben’s leadership, scholarship and research experience
meshes perfectly with CALS’ commitment to an interdisciplinary culture and
a deeply held belief that effecting meaningful change requires a holistic,
systems-based approach to problem-solving,” Kotlikoff said. “His leadership
at the Muir Institute – and his own scientific discoveries – have advanced
sustainable agriculture and demonstrate a bold vision to promote planetary
health and resilience. In addition, his talent for championing faculty and
students to help solve the world’s challenges will serve CALS well.”
Houlton succeeds Kathryn Boor ’80, who will become dean of
the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education Oct. 1.
CALS is among the most comprehensive academic units in the
world and is widely regarded for the quality of its programs, which are
housed on the Ithaca campus and at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York.
commitment guides the college’s focus on ensuring human well-being while
protecting and restoring the environment and working to transform food and
human systems in financially and ecologically sustainable ways.“My
excitement to join Cornell is matched by a recognition of the real
responsibility of leading the world’s greatest college of its kind,”
Houlton said. “I will approach this with a core of principle values –
humility, cooperation, collaboration and the ability to engage in deep
listening. Leveraging these values as I work with faculty, students and
staff, I want to make sure everyone feels they are completely a part of
what the college is trying to achieve as an important, relevant global
CALS has 350 faculty members, 16 academic departments and
two schools, matriculating more than 3,000 undergraduate students and
nearly 900 graduate students. The college encompasses 22 majors and 40
minors, and offers more than 1,500 courses. In 2019 its research budget
exceeded $254 million.
“It’s important to build on the legacy and tradition of
global excellence at Cornell,” said Houlton, who noted work being done to
address some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as reducing food
insecurity, diminishing climate change, promoting environmental stewardship
and maintaining human nutrition.
By 2050, he said, this planet must feed about 10 billion
people. “For me, I think of this as an opportunity for faculty and
extension experts, expanding upon our basic discoveries for real-world
impact,” he said, “and importantly to educate a rich array of diverse
students – tomorrow’s changemakers – who can lead the world in solving its
most critical planetary challenges.”
Houlton also considers diversity, equity and inclusion as
central to advancing CALS’ mission and commitment to sustainability.
“Ezra Cornell nailed it from the beginning, ‘… an
institution where anyone can find instruction …,’” he said.
Houlton will share responsibility for leadership of Cornell
Cooperative Extension throughout New York state with Rachel Dunifon, the
Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.
As dean, he will report to the provost and be a member of Cornell’s senior
Director of UC Davis’ John Muir Institute of the Environment
since 2016, Houlton oversees 300 faculty affiliates plus 350 postdoctoral
researchers, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students
who are engaged in cross-disciplinary research aimed at solving the most
challenging environmental, economic, human health and welfare problems.
Under his leadership, the institute’s revenues have grown from $26 million
to $36 million annually.
At the institute Houlton launched the One Climate initiative
and a strategic plan to bolster corporate, philanthropy and foundational
As part of his Muir Institute work, Houlton secured $5
million to launch the Working Lands Innovation Center that connects
scientists with farmers, ranchers, Native American tribes, business and
government in more than 100 acres of farmland carbon sequestration
Houlton has served on the UC Davis faculty since 2007,
teaching global environmental studies. In 2017, UC President Janet
Napolitano appointed him to the University of California Global Climate
Leadership Council, charged with implementing greenhouse gas reduction
plans for the university to achieve carbon neutrality systemwide by 2025.
In 2018, Houlton served as founding co-chair of the
California Collaborative for Climate Change Solutions, a public-private
partnership connecting leaders in academia, business, finance and
philanthropy with policymakers.
Houlton has published more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific
articles in such leading journals as Nature, Science and the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences.
In 2006, Houlton won the
Gene E. Likens Award from the Ecological Society of America. The award is
named for Likens, who was a Cornell professor (1969-83) in the Section of
Ecology and Systematics, the predecessor of the Department of Ecology and
Evolutionary Biology. He has also received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Young Investigator Award (2008) and an NSF CAREER Award (2011).Houlton
earned a bachelor’s degree in water chemistry (1998) from the University of
Wisconsin, Stevens Point; a master’s degree in environmental engineering
(2000) from Syracuse University; and a doctorate in ecology and
evolutionary biology (2005) from Princeton University. Afterward, he served
for two years as a postdoctoral scholar in biological sciences at Stanford
University and the Carnegie Institute of Science at Stanford.
Houlton grew up in Wisconsin, where his family roots span a
long line of Midwestern dairy and poultry farmers. Houlton will be
accompanied to Ithaca by his wife, Amanda, and their two children, Sydney