Merlo to return to alma mater NYU to become dean of the faculty of arts and science

After an outstanding record of achievements and service to the university over five years, Antonio Merlo, the current dean of the School of Social Sciences, has announced he will step down June 30 to assume the position of dean of the faculty of arts and science at New York University (NYU).

Antonio Merlo. Photo credit: Rice University

Antonio Merlo (Photo credit: Rice University)

“The past five years at Rice University have been truly exceptional,” Merlo said. “I have had the privilege of working closely with remarkable students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni to elevate the profile and reputation of the School of Social Sciences. The love of our alumni for their alma mater was especially inspirational. It is the same sentiment that is bringing me back to my beloved alma mater NYU as the next dean of the faculty of arts and science. As a first-generation college student from Italy, when I first arrived at NYU in 1988 to pursue my doctoral studies, I could never imagine that one day I would have come full circle and be asked to lead that very faculty that taught me, helped me develop my identity as a scholar, supported me and mentored me throughout my academic career.”

When Merlo was hired in 2014 to head the department of economics and the newly established Rice Initiative for the Study of Economics, the renowned political economist assembled a faculty “dream team” of top economists who, along with the introduction of a new master’s degree in energy economics, a semiannual Nobel laureate lecture series and the addition of notable faculty members, helped Rice Economics achieve the level of prominence it enjoys today.

At the time of his hiring, Merlo expressed enthusiasm to be able to pave a new way for economics at Rice.

“I am grateful to be given this historic opportunity to build something unique in the field that I love,” Merlo said then.

Merlo would soon expand his role at Rice to benefit the larger School of Social Sciences. In March 2016, Rice announced his selection as dean of the school.

In addition to attracting new and talented faculty to the school’s departments and overseeing the creation of a new psychology master’s degree focusing on human and computer interaction, Merlo directed the formation of the Texas Policy Lab. Supported by a $6.6 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the lab will use cutting-edge research and analysis to offer measurable solutions for policymakers.

To complement the Texas Policy Lab, Merlo also oversaw the establishment of a first-of-its-kind program that includes an undergraduate major and a professional master’s degree on social policy evaluation to prepare future leaders for careers in policy analysis and public service. Merlo said the need for this stemmed from “the increased demand for evidence-based policy and a growing need for public and nonprofit leaders who possess the ability to gather, analyze and interpret evidence.” And most recently, under Merlo’s leadership, construction was launched for a new home for Rice’s School of Social Sciences, the Patricia Lipoma Kraft ’87 and Jonathan A. Kraft Hall for Social Sciences. This important project firmly establishes the centrality of Social Sciences at Rice and will anchor the Rice campus “policy corridor.”

“Antonio has brought both energy and innovation to the School of Social Sciences, positioning Rice well to address the complex problems the world faces,” said Provost Marie Lynn Miranda. “We wish him well as he returns to his alma mater.”

Perhaps Rice President David Leebron summed up Merlo’s contributions to the school best at a groundbreaking for Kraft Hall last year.

“The School of Social Sciences is on a roll,” he said. “It’s on a roll in terms of setting forth a vision, it’s on a roll in terms of the facilities it will have, it’s on a roll in terms of its reputation for teaching and it’s on a roll in terms of the faculty we are hiring.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with Antonio for the past five years, and we’re very grateful for his contributions to the school of Social Sciences and the broader university,” Leebron said this week. “We congratulate Antonio on his new leadership position, and wish him well in his further contributions to the academic enterprise.”

Planning will soon begin for both interim school leadership as well as a full search for the next dean of social sciences.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.