Judith Smith has been appointed founding dean of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA’s newest school and the first school of music to be established in the University of California system. She will assume leadership on March 1.

Smith has agreed to postpone her retirement to serve as dean until June 30, 2019, according to today’s announcement by UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh.

Smith, who served as UCLA’s first dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, among her other leadership roles on campus, has been the school of music’s interim dean since January 2016, when the UC regents voted to formally establish the school.

“Following a national search for the inaugural dean, Chancellor Block and I determined that Judi was the best person to lead the school during these critically important early years,” Waugh said in his announcement. “She already has made great strides in building community, improving facilities, and fostering a balanced focus on scholarship, performance, composition and teaching of music in all of its contemporary and historical diversity. We are eager for this work to continue and deeply appreciate Judi’s willingness to extend her service to UCLA and the School of Music.”

Smith said today, "I am enormously grateful to the chancellor and the provost for their confidence in my leadership, and I look forward to working with them and our faculty to foster an environment that will offer our students unparalleled academic opportunities and to bring our innovative programs the national and international recognition they deserve." 

From July 2015 to January 2016, Smith was executive director of the emerging school of music. At that time, the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music was being managed from within the School of the Arts and Architecture, where the departments of ethnomusicology and music resided. She worked closely with faculty representatives from those departments and musicology, which was in the Division of Humanities in the UCLA College, to develop a proposal for the school of music, now home to all three departments.  

The deanship is the latest leadership post Smith has taken on during her career at UCLA, which began in 1969 when she became an assistant professor of physiological science. Over the subsequent 42 years, she served as chair of her department (1980-85), chair of the UCLA Academic Senate (1994-95), dean and vice provost for undergraduate education (1996-2012) and chair of the College Cabinet of deans (2009-12).

A winner of the UCLA’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1973, she remains a dedicated and much-admired teacher. Her research on spinal cord physiology and limb dynamics was continuously funded by the NIH for 27 years. In 1990 she received a Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award for her “exceptional talent, imagination and preeminent scientific achievement.”

As UCLA’s first dean and vice provost for undergraduate education, Smith was an energetic and effective advocate for curricular quality and pedagogical innovation, Waugh noted. She established the Division of Undergraduate Education and spearheaded the creation of the Freshman Clusters, Fiat Lux Freshman Seminars, Writing II, Undergraduate Research Centers, Center for Community Learning and Scholarship Resource Center.

She also led a successful effort to transform UCLA’s general education curriculum. She established UCLA’s largest undergraduate scholarship program, raising an endowment of nearly $50 million.

Smith also made many important contributions to UCLA’s diversity by initiating partnerships with community colleges, seeking extramural funding for special programs, and establishing new programs to provide opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research and pursue science research careers.

As UCLA’s liaison officer for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges re-accreditation process, she sparked such innovations as the Undergraduate Capstone Project and Challenge 45.

Although Smith is a scientist by training, she has an abiding commitment to the arts and to music in particular. She studied piano for 12 years and then harpsichord as a music minor during her undergraduate years. She also has a great passion for opera.

“Chancellor Block and I are confident that Judi’s leadership abilities, extensive knowledge of UCLA and commitment to academic excellence will serve the school well,” Waugh said.