Farewell, Zvi

Rene Perez
Zvi Galil
Zvi Galil will retire as dean of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at the end of this academic year to become president of Tel Aviv University in his native Israel. He’ll be leaving Columbia after 25 years, the last 12 as SEAS dean.

At the engineering school, Galil boosted academic rankings, increased the size of the faculty from 90 full-time members to more than 150, and helped secure a $26 million gift donation from Chinese businessman Z.Y. Fu, for whom the school is named. But he’s best known to students for his accessibility — holding fireside discussions, sending quirky blast e-mails, and chatting on the outdoor engineering terrace. A group of undergraduates has even created a blog honoring Galil, SaveZvi.com, where many have posted lighthearted messages pleading that he remain. “Physics 1602 is the reason I left SEAS,” writes one anonymous poster. “You are why I wish I didn’t.” Adds another: “Stay man!”

“I have loved my work here,” Galil wrote in a November e-mail announcing his impending departure. “It has been the best job in the world. I have enjoyed working with our great faculty, terrific students, excellent staff, and loyal alumni and parents. Many of them have become close friends. We have made tremendous progress in recent years and we have great momentum.”

After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Tel Aviv University, and then his PhD in computer science at Cornell, Galil began his teaching career at Tel Aviv University in 1976. His late father was one of the school’s six founders. Galil joined Columbia as a computer science professor in 1982 and continued teaching part-time at Tel Aviv University until becoming dean in 1995.

He says he’ll face political challenges in leading Tel Aviv University, in part because of Israel’s recent government cuts in funding for higher education. “Tel Aviv University has suffered several setbacks, including a difficult financial situation, a reduction in faculty, and a crisis in morale,” wrote Galil in his e-mail to the SEAS community. “I was asked to take on the presidency to help realize its full potential, being the premier university in Israel and in the top tier of universities worldwide. . . .

“Tel Aviv University and Columbia are separated by an ocean,” he adds, “but that has less meaning than at any prior time in human history. I hope these two institutions will develop a number of relationships.”