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Dean Finholt recommended as the next U-M vice provost

UMSI Dean Thomas A. Finholt standing beneath the arches in the North Quad courtyard

Thursday, 07/07/2022

Provost Laurie McCauley is recommending Thomas A. Finholt, dean in the School of Information, as the University of Michigan’s next vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs.

His appointment will be effective Aug. 15 and runs through Aug. 31, 2027, pending Board of Regents approval. Finholt succeeds Amy Dittmar, who stepped down to become provost at Rice University.

Dean Finholt has been actively involved in budgetary discussions and strategy, including through his service as the chair of the deans’ budget subcommittee. The School of Information has thrived under his leadership, both programmatically and financially,” said McCauley. “Given his broad experience in financial decision making and higher education administration, I am confident that he is extremely well qualified to provide leadership in academic and budgetary matters.”

The vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs works collaboratively with the provost in setting policy pertaining to academic and budgetary issues, and serves as a direct liaison to deans and directors in many areas of academic and budgetary affairs.

I am excited and honored to be recommended for this position. My experience as dean and as chair of the APG budget committee has provided a strong preparation for this new role,” said Finholt. “I am eager to join Provost McCauley and her team in guiding U-M to meet the challenges that face us and to maintain our position as a leading public university.”

Finholt received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College and a doctorate in social and decision sciences from Carnegie Mellon University. Before completing his Ph.D., he completed a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

He joined U-M in 1991 as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. From 1997-2009, his appointments from assistant research scientist to research professor resided in the School of Information.

In 2009, he was appointed professor at UMSI. Finholt was a co-founder and then director of the Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work.  Starting in the mid-1990s and continuing for 20 years, CREW pioneered the study of human-computer interaction in organizational settings, including research on many applications that are now commonplace, such as videoconferencing and shared document editing.

His previous roles in the school include associate dean for research and innovation (2006-10), senior associate dean for faculty (2010-12), senior associate dean for academic affairs (2012-15), acting dean (2013), interim dean (2015-16) and dean (2016-present).

“We were an experimental proposition when we started,” Finholt said today, “with uncertain appeal to students and employers – and an unproven identity. Today, we are a widely recognized and respected school, where students seek admission, employers hire our graduates, and exciting young researchers want to join us. We are well-prepared to continue on this successful trajectory.”

His priorities as dean have included expanding the number of online courses and degrees offered by UMSI, diversifying the pipeline for information technology employment, and applying research at UMSI to increase civic engagement and to improve the quality of online public discourse.

In 2019, the school launched its first all-online graduate degree, the Master of Applied Data Science. That program is now the largest in the school, with over 640 students enrolled as of Fall 2021. Total UMSI enrollment has more than doubled since Finholt became dean; it is now the fourth-largest school/college at U-M. Other programs introduced during his deanship include the Graduate Certificate in Extended Reality (XR) and a professional certificate in Public Library Management, offered online. 

In 2025, UMSI will move into a new building on U-M’s North Campus, the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building. Finholt says, “While the new building isn’t done, accomplishing the combination of campus, state and donor funding to launch construction was a key accomplishment of my period as dean.”

However, he said he’s proudest of the school earning the 2021 Rhetaugh G. Dumas Progress in Diversifying Award, recognizing progress in increasing faculty diversity.

Finholt’s research areas include collective intelligence and organizational technology; data science, analytics, and visualization; human computer interaction; and science, technology and society. 

He helped develop several key systems for scientific discovery over the internet, including the Space Physics and Aeronomy Research Collaboratory (SPARC) and the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). He was a co-developer of the world's first operational virtual observatory, the Upper Atmospheric Research Collaboratory (UARC), which was a finalist in the science category for the 1998 Smithsonian/Computerworld awards. 

His current research contributions include the organization of a network of faculty across 13 units on campus to develop an augmented/virtual/mixed reality strategy for the university.  He also is active in the sports analytics initiative, where students from various disciplines work with trainers and coaches in U-M Athletics to analyze athletes’ health, safety and performance using data gathered from wearable devices.  

Since 1992, he has been the principal investigator on grants totaling more than $8 million, and a co-principal investigator on grants totaling more than $9 million, predominantly from the NSF.  He has co-authored over 50 refereed articles, chapters and conference proceedings.

Finholt said, “I am excited to apply the successful lessons learned at UMSI at the scale of the entire institution. I believe U-M can benefit from the spirit of experimentation and discovery that characterizes the School of Information.

“I will miss my dear colleagues and friends, who have been a daily source of inspiration and direction, particularly over the past two very difficult years. The school has always been about the students, faculty and staff, and I have appreciated our shared effort and orientation to a common mission to help people use information, with technology, to make a better world.”

– By Kim Broekhuizen, U-M Public Affairs
with UMSI staff reports


Dean Thomas A. Finholt’s email message to the UMSI community.