Engineering Dean Jim Plummer to step down after record tenure at Stanford

John Todd Dean Jim Plummer

School of Engineering Dean Jim Plummer will step down next summer after nearly 15 years.

Jim Plummer, dean of the Stanford School of Engineering, has announced that he plans to step down next summer after nearly 15 years as dean.

"Jim Plummer will be the longest serving dean in the history of Stanford's distinguished School of Engineering, leading an era that included creating an exciting new department, renewing or replacing much of the school's laboratory and classroom space, and dramatically increasing the number of undergraduate majors," said President John Hennessy, himself a former dean of the school.  "During Jim's tenure, the school has enhanced its partnerships with other Stanford schools and with outside entities to play a larger role in solving the most pressing global problems. We are grateful for his patient and collaborative leadership both within the school and across the university."

Stanford Provost John Etchemendy said, "Jim Plummer's leadership has changed the character of Stanford's graduate and undergraduate engineering education, which has become known internationally for its hands-on, creative, multidisciplinary approach.  The soaring numbers of students and the accomplishments of our engineering alumni are proof of that success."

Since Plummer assumed his post in September 1999, the engineering school has worked across disciplines and across the campus to create programs that have changed the character of undergraduate and graduate engineering education. These include the Hasso Plattner Institute of  Design (, which has become known globally for its hands-on, product-centered approach to education; the Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP), which has provided resources to boost Stanford research in alternative energy; and the Bioengineering Department, which is jointly managed with the medical school and has risen in national rankings since its inception in 2002. 

"I have been privileged to serve as dean and to work with some of the best faculty, staff and students in the world, but it is time for me and the School of Engineering to move on," Plummer said. "Change is good. It is good for people and it is good for institutions."

Among other milestones, Plummer has presided over a complete upgrade of the school's physical plant that has put all nine departments into state-of-the-art facilities. This includes construction of the Science and Engineering Quad (SEQ), which will be complete in 2014. During Plummer's tenure, the percentage of Stanford undergraduates choosing engineering majors has risen from an historical average of 20 percent to almost 35 percent, with most of the increase occurring in computer science, product design and other new programs such as bioengineering.

"Students come to Stanford because they want to change the world, and more of them are deciding that engineering provides the means to do this," said Plummer, who defines engineers as problem-solvers who translate ideas into reality. 

Plummer plans to take a year's sabbatical, after which he expects to return to research and teaching in the Electrical Engineering Department. This fall, Etchemendy will appoint a search committee to identify a new dean.

The Stanford School of Engineering enrolls about 5,300 students and has more than 240 faculty members, including 130 national and international academy and society members. All nine of the school's departments are ranked in the top five nationally. The school has more than 80 labs, centers and affiliate programs involving students in research.

Plummer is the eighth person to have served as dean since the School of Engineering was founded in 1925. Their tenure has averaged slightly over 11 years. By the time he departs next summer, Plummer will have served slightly longer than the two longest-serving prior deans, Frederick Terman (1944 to 1958) and Joseph Pettit (1958 to 1972).

Born in Toronto, Canada, Plummer has made his career at Stanford, where he earned his master's and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering in 1967 and 1971. He first joined the Stanford faculty in 1978 and became a professor of electrical engineering in 1983.

A popular educator and accomplished scientist, Plummer has accumulated a series of honors, including memberships in the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as several teaching awards at Stanford. Before being appointed dean, Plummer was chair of the Electrical Engineering Department. He succeeded John Hennessy as dean in 1999, when Hennessy was appointed provost and later president of Stanford. Plummer serves on the boards of Intel, Cadence Design Systems and International Rectifier.

Lisa Lapin, University Communications: (650) 725-8396,