LAWRENCE — K. Christopher Beard, the Mary R. Dawson Chair of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and a world-renowned paleontologist, is joining the University of Kansas as its latest Foundation Distinguished Professor. Beard is the second eminent scholar to join KU as part of the Foundation Professor initiative.
“By any measure, Professor Beard is one of the most outstanding intellects in his field and the epitome of the collaborative scholar,” said Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor. “His peers use phrases like ‘most brilliant of his generation,’ ‘an excellent teacher’ and ‘most important of the last 30 years’ in describing his work. I’m thrilled to add ‘Foundation Distinguished Professor’ and ‘Jayhawk’ to that list.”
Beard has served as Dawson Chair at the Carnegie Museum, widely regarded among the nation’s top-five natural history museums, since 2008. In 2000, he received a MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “Genius Award,” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He has served at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History since 1989.
“For a paleontologist in my field, access to fossil specimens is key, and when you consider KU’s combination of one the top ecology and evolutionary biology programs, the excellent Biodiversity Institute and its outstanding collections, I had a very strong attraction to this university,” Beard said. “I have worked with a number of KU graduates over the years, so I am very familiar with the quality of the program. I have been greatly impressed with the positive, collaborative environment and am eager to begin working in Lawrence.”
Beard’s publication record contains more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, including in top-ranked journals such as Nature, Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences and Proceedings of the Royal Society, and three books and edited volumes, including “The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey,” which received the 2005 W.W. Howells Book Award and the 2005 Science Book Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He serves as editor on three professional journals and as an executive committee member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Beard’s role at KU will be as a Foundation Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and senior curator at the Biodiversity Institute. He will contribute to a KU paleontology program ranked No. 7 in the nation in the 2013 U.S. News & World Report graduate school rankings. He will join the KU faculty Tuesday, April 1.
“The addition of Professor Beard to one of our most outstanding disciplines promises to raise the level of comprehensiveness, authority and reputation of KU nationally and internationally,” said Danny Anderson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “KU has a proud history in paleontology and a tremendous current collection of faculty and research talent, and now an even brighter future thanks to our newest Foundation Distinguished Professor. He is an excellent addition as a researcher, educator and mentor and ideally suited to play a leadership role in advancing paleontology at KU.”
Beard earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctorate from the functional anatomy and evolution program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1990.
Joining Beard at KU will be his wife and frequent collaborator, Sandra Olsen, who will serve as professor of museum studies and senior curator at the Biodiversity Institute. She will join the KU faculty on Aug. 18.
KU’s Foundation Professor initiative is a unique partnership between the university and the state of Kansas to attract eminent faculty members to support one of the university’s four strategic initiative themes. Beard is the second of 12 such eminent scholars who will join KU. In his role as Foundation Distinguished Professor, Beard will play a leadership role in advancing KU’s strategic initiative theme Harnessing Information, Multiplying Knowledge.