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Alan R. Townsend to Become CC’s Provost

Alan R. Townsend will become Colorado College’s provost and professor of environmental science on June 1.

Townsend currently is director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and professor in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He comes to Colorado College with a background of strong leadership, excellent strategic planning, successful fundraising, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion. He earned his B.A. in biology from Amherst College and his Ph.D. in biological sciences from Stanford University.

Townsend is an ecosystem ecologist who studies how ecosystems work, how they are changing, and what those changes might mean for society. His nationally prominent research includes work on nutrient cycling and biogeochemistry in tropical forests, and global-scale analyses of human impact on major element cycles. 

"As the college’s initiatives have grown with the Fine Arts Center, Innovation, and the expanded library, it needs an experienced academic leader to guide and integrate these initiatives," says Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler. "Townsend is an inclusive leader, scholar, and champion of the liberal arts — qualities that will serve CC well."

As CC’s provost, Townsend will be the college’s chief academic officer and the college’s second-ranking officer with strategic responsibilities that span the entire institution. He will report to the president, serve on the president's cabinet, take a leadership role in the annual budget process, and implement the updated strategic plan.

Carol Neel, professor of history and co-chair of the search committee, says “Our new provost is a path-breaking scholar who also is a forceful and articulate public intellectual, a skilled administrator dedicated to empowering those around him, and a nuanced advocate of the liberal arts able to focus our collaboration in this central mission.”

At the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Townsend is responsible for the financial health, personnel management, and strategic decision-making for an institute with approximately 300 tenure-track faculty, soft-money research, staff and student positions, and formal links to seven academic departments across two colleges.

Townsend spent 17 years on the faculty at CU Boulder before becoming dean of the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment in 2014. He returned to CU Boulder early in 2017 as the associate vice chancellor for research, working to advance the university's $500 million research mission; Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research Fellow; and professor of Environmental Studies. Before his time at Duke, he served as director of the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation and the lead of CU Boulder’s efforts to secure the U.S. hub of Future Earth, now located in CU Boulder's Sustainability, Energy and Environment Community. Before that, he held various roles at CU Boulder, including director of the Environmental Studies program; professor and assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; and fellow and associate director at Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. He also co-directed the national Aldo Leopold Leadership Program.

Townsend's fellowships and awards include being an Ecological Society of America fellow; Google Science Communication Fellow; Aldo Leopold Leadership Program Fellow; CU Junior Faculty Development Award; NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellow; and NASA Global Change Graduate Fellow. 

He has published extensively, with more than 100 refereed publications, over 20,000 citations, and approximately $26 million in federal and foundation grant awards.