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Dean of Research Robert Byer will return to teaching, research
STANFORD -- After spending five years as dean of research, applied physicist Robert Byer will return to teaching and research after fall quarter.
Provost Gerald Lieberman announced Byer's decision to the Faculty Senate on Thursday, Oct. 8. The senate gave Byer a sustained round of applause.
An expert on lasers and nonlinear optics, Byer said he is eager to renew his "intellectual capital."
He said he hopes that his department can spare him to spend winter and spring quarters on his first sabbatical since 1978, "reading in my field, catching up with ideas and getting back into the lab with my students to try to recreate research opportunities."
Byer, who has not taught a course during his tenure as dean, said he also is eager to get back to the classroom.
"I miss that. It's hard to say you're really in tune with the university if you're not part of the annual teaching process," he said.
During campus discussion two years ago about teaching vs. research, many concluded that the two "resonate with each other, but I can tell you that administration doesn't resonate with teaching," he said good-naturedly.
Serving as dean of research was an education, Byer admitted. "Where else could you learn how hardball is played in Washington, D.C.?" he asked rhetorically, referring to the indirect cost dispute.
He said the dispute over research funding is part of a larger issue - the "renegotiation of the social contract of how our government is supporting investment in education at all levels."
The subject is not sufficiently addressed in the presidential campaign, Byer said, but the United States now is "trying to come to terms with how we're going to invest in our future through the education of our children."
The controversy was unfortunate, Byer said, because it put universities at odds with the federal government, and now relationships must be rebuilt. Stanford President Gerhard Casper "has done a lot of good" in informing the Office of Naval Research that the university would like to reestablish a productive partnership, Byer said.
More satisfying for the dean were such initiatives as the recently created Marsh O'Neill Fund, which recognizes staff contributions to research. Nominations are made solely by faculty.
Another initiative was the Office of Technology Licensing Research Incentive Fund, a program that provides seed money for faculty "to take an innovative leap to try something bold and new," Byer said. The program, now in its third year, has expanded beyond technical and scientific subjects to even fund research at the Law School.
Byer's unit also broadened its definition of research when it took over responsibility two years ago for the Humanities Center, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and the Center for Chicano Research.
"We were perceived as responsible only for technical research," said Byer, who in five years tried to expand that to "represent all of research and scholarship at Stanford." These centers are performing nationally important research, he said, citing work on women's and children's health, and the health of minority children exposed to such agents as lead and pesticides.
Byer also helped foster the growth of interdisciplinary research through various labs, centers and institutes. Two created in recent years are the Institute for International Studies, and the Center for the Study of Language and Information.
On the technical side, Byer encouraged the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lab to join forces with the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. They became a single unit on Oct. 1.
Byer said he had enjoyed assisting SLAC with its B factory proposal, which "represents the future for the tool of high- energy physics." The proposed B factory would produce enough B mesons to help physicists explore some basic mysteries of the universe's creation.
With his new-found time come January, Byer will devote much of his energy to the Center for Nonlinear Materials, which he heads. The project - involving researchers from electrical engineering, materials science, applied physics, aeronautics and astronautics, and the Solid State and Ginzton laboratories - explores how to convert laser-radiated light from one color to another. Applications include high-definition television display and more compact storage of information on optical materials.
Byer also will fulfill duties as president-elect (and later president) of the Optical Society of America, and continue his work with the California Council on Science and Technology.
The holder of more than 20 patents and author of more than 250 technical publications, Byer is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He also is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
Byer earned his bachelor's degree in physics from the University of California-Berkeley in 1964, then came to Stanford for master's and doctoral degrees in applied physics in 1967 and 1969. He was appointed assistant professor of applied physics in 1969, moving up through the ranks to serve as department chair from 1980 to 1983. He was associate dean of humanities and sciences from 1984 to 1986.
In 1987, he accepted the job as dean of research for a four-year term. Following the advice of a Berkeley colleague on how to be a dean and later return to teaching and research, Byer submitted a letter of resignation his first day on the job.
His friend advised that "if you do a great job and want to go back to teaching and research, you can pull out the letter and put it on the desk of the provost and tell him you already had resigned," Byer said.
On the other hand, "if you do a really bad job, the provost could pull out the letter and say, 'I noticed you resigned four years ago.'
"What my friend didn't tell me was about the case in which the administration wouldn't act either way."
Byer ended up staying on a fifth year to help with the indirect cost problem.
Lieberman said he planned to have a successor to Byer in place by January.
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