KU hires New Mexico physicist, dean to serve as leader of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

photo by: University of New Mexico

Arash Mafi

A physicist and interim dean at the University of New Mexico has been selected to become the leader of KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the university’s biggest academic unit.

Arash Mafi was chosen from a field of four finalists to take over as executive dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He’ll oversee a college that has 11,000 undergraduate students, 1,700 graduate students and more than 1,000 faculty and staff members. The college has had years of interim leadership ever since its last permanent dean vacated the position.

“I am honored and excited by the opportunity to lead the College at KU and promote our shared vision of supporting student success, fostering healthy and vibrant communities, and advancing research and discovery,” Mafi said in a news release.

He will begin his new role at KU on March 1.

Mafi currently is the interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of New Mexico. He has been a part of the New Mexico faculty since 2014 and has been interim dean since 2021.

In his current role, Mafi oversees 24 academic departments and schools, 460 faculty and 300 staff members, according to information in a KU news release.

Mafi is a physicist, and previously was the director of one of New Mexico’s top research centers, the Center for High Technology Materials. The center works with faculty members from electrical engineering, computer engineering, chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, physics, astronomy and several other disciplines, according to information from the University of New Mexico.

KU Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said several traits stood out when Mafi was in Lawrence in October for in-person interviews and public presentations as part of the selection process.

“The feedback from our community members highlighted Dr. Mafi’s commitment to listening, his record of excellence in research and education, and his enthusiasm for innovation,” Bichelmeyer said.

Mafi earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Sharif University of Technology in Iran and has both a master’s in physics and a doctorate in theoretical particle physics from Ohio State University. He also has private-sector experience working for the multinational glass and ceramics giant Corning, where he focused on optical communications.

At New Mexico, he is a full professor in physics and astronomy, in addition to serving as interim dean.

KU was seeking a dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences after years of interim leadership, when its former dean, Carl Lejuez, left to temporarily serve as provost for KU. The college’s current interim dean, John Colombo, has been serving since 2019.

Previous leaders of the college held the title of dean, but Mafi will be the first to have the title of executive dean. Bichelmeyer in March announced the new title, saying it would allow KU to attract a broader range of diverse candidates. In her message in March, Bichelmeyer said she envisioned the executive dean “will take leadership for priorities such as promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for students, staff and faculty in the College; fostering interdisciplinary research and discovery, increasing enrollment and retention of undergraduates, aligning the College strategic plan with Jayhawks Rising, and engaging with KU Endowment in philanthropic activities.” She said KU’s various associate deans in the college also may receive new responsibilities under the new format.

Mafi, in a release, said he was attracted to the breadth of offerings in KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“I am especially thrilled by the diversity of disciplines in the College,” Mafi said, “and the possibilities to connect various departments, programs and centers to advance the College’s collective education and research mission.”


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