Chemist Who Studies the Environment Begins Deanship

Kevin Swan

Joseph S. Francisco
June 30, 2014

Joseph S. Francisco, who becomes dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln this week, traces his career path to growing up near oil refineries and chemical-processing plants in Beaumont, Tex. One day, while playing on the train tracks, he observed some drops of oil seeping into the earth. His curiosity about that spilled oil, and chemical spills, helped motivate a career in chemistry and its effects on the environment.

He has more than 400 published journal articles, in which he has explored topics like how acid rain breaks down, the effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone, and the molecular origin of global warming.

Mr. Francisco, who is 59, leaves behind his post as a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and chemistry at Purdue University. He was associate dean for research and graduate education in Purdue’s College of Science from 2010 to 2013 and is a former president of the American Chemical Society.

"The totality of who he is, his ideas and his vision, his personality, his energy level, his passion, means he’ll be able to take that incredible academic set of accomplishments and be a good dean," said Ellen Weissinger, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at Lincoln.

Mr. Francisco will succeed David C. Manderscheid, who accepted an executive dean position at Ohio State University last year.

"What was exciting about the opportunity to become a dean at UNL," Mr. Francisco says, "is an opportunity to take all the things that I’ve learned about what it takes to be successful and say, ‘Well, look, how do we give something back to young people who get an education as an opportunity to really improve themselves?"

Mr. Francisco will be one of Lincoln’s best-compensated employees, with a $365,000 salary that includes a $55,000 professorship from the university’s foundation. His compensation will top last year’s base pay for Lincoln’s chancellor, Harvey S. Perlman, by $24,000.

"What that says to me is the university places a high value on what I bring to the table," Mr. Francisco says. "They have high expectations, and that’s something I need to make sure I deliver upon."

He hopes to help increase students’ global experience, through international internships, work, and research, he says. He also hopes to promote further multidisciplinary collaboration between departments at Lincoln, so it can "stay on the cutting edge" of new innovations. Such collaborations between departments, he says, have already begun at Lincoln, including at its year-old Center for Brain, Biology, and Behavior.

"They have people from genetics, neuroscience, political science, and psychology and biologists all working together to look at concussion injuries and how they really impact and affect motion and competence and how that translates to kinds of attitudes, behaviors, and choices," he says. "The cool thing is they’re collaborating with athletes at UNL."