The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has always been the model for the fledgling King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a graduate-only research university along the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. Today, the founders took the next logical step in their goal of becoming the next great research university: They hired the president of Caltech, Jean-Lou Chameau, to lead the 4-year-old institution.
Chameau, a French-born civil engineer and former dean and provost at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has been president of Caltech for 7 years. In a letter to the Caltech community, the 59-year-old Chameau calls KAUST "an undertaking of historic importance" and said he had not been looking for a new job. "Until recently, Carol and I believed we would complete our careers at Caltech and retire in Pasadena," said Chameau about his wife, Carol Carmichael, an environmental engineer. "We did not expect, however, to be presented with a unique and life-changing opportunity: to lead" KAUST.
Chameau will succeed founding president Choon Fong Shih, the former head of the National University of Singapore, who announced last year that he planned to step down once his successor was named. In a statement, Shih praised Chameau's "broad understanding and deep insights in research and education at top universities in North America and further afield." He also noted Chameau's "genuine affection for his faculty and students as well as his sincere efforts to build community at Caltech."
Having recently completed a $1 billion capital campaign, Chameau said he is leaving Caltech "in a very strong financial position, with operating surpluses and the accumulation of reserves." And given KAUST's $20 billion endowment from King Abdullah, institution-building is likely to rank above fundraising on Chameau's to-do list for the fledgling university. KAUST has suffered an exodus of several senior scientists and administrators who have complained of meddling by officials from Aramco, the giant Saudi oil company that built and operates the campus.
Chameau is expected to take office this summer.