Dean of U’s College of Design to step down in June

Tom Fisher

Tom Fisher

Longtime St. Anthony Park resident Tom Fisher will step down in June as dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota.

Fisher originally came to the U as the head of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. After an administrative reorganization, he assumed the top post at the newly formed College of Design in 2006.

Of his decision to step down, Fisher said, “[By June], I will have been a dean for 19 years, which is a long time for a person to be in any leadership position. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the work, but I am ready for a new leadership challenge and I think the college will benefit from new leadership as well.”

Asked about his legacy, Fisher noted that he “led the college through a lot of transition,” including the “creation of a new college” and the opening in 2002 of Ralph Rapson Hall, the greatly enlarged and renovated building on the U’s East Bank, which now houses the Architecture School. “I also have seen the college, and design generally, play a more visible role in this community, which is important in an era in which we need new, more innovative and sustainable ways of living and working,” he said.

Karen Hanson, the U’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, described Fisher as “a leader in the public interest design movement, a strong and effective advocate for using design to tackle the major economic, environmental and societal challenges facing the world.”

Fisher is leaving the dean’s post, but not the U. He has been named to the Dayton Hudson Land Grant Chair in Urban Design and will direct the Metropolitan Design Center (MDC), a unit of the College of Design that specializes in the study of urban issues related to the  architectural planning process.

“Directing the MDC will allow me to work on projects that I didn’t have time for as a dean,” he said. “My goal at the MDC is to help our region thrive in the 21st century, and to creatively rethink many of our development policies inherited from the last century that are increasingly ill-suited to the changing economics, demographics and market demands of our region. I want to see the MDC also help communities envision better, more economically vital, socially equitable, and environmentally sound futures for themselves.”

In whatever spare time he has professionally this year, he will also assume the presidency of the National Academy of Environmental Design, a group he helped to found.

Although he will remain a faculty member at the College of Design, Fisher has no intention of offering unsolicited counsel to his successor. “I am happy to offer advice and to support my successor when asked,” he said, “but I intend to stay completely out of the ongoing leadership and operations of the college. I was dean long enough and I have no interest in becoming a shadow dean.”

Retirement is not on the table for Fisher at this point, but he confesses that he’s looking forward to having a little more time for his family, including two-year-old grandson, Gus, who lives nearby.

He also anticipates the chance to do more writing, adding to an output that already numbers 10 books, 50 chapters in other people’s books and [as of this writing] exactly 400 articles in the areas of architecture and design. As a proponent of innovative designs for living, he’s eager to remain connected to issues in his own backyard in St. Anthony Park.

“I also hope to be of help to the neighborhood around development issues,” says Fisher, “as I have tried to be in the past.”

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