Headshot of President Fenves

Meet President Fenves


Last November, when the Emory Board of Trustees began its search for the university’s 21st president, no one could have anticipated what lay ahead. Within a few months, a global pandemic would claim countless lives, paralyze communities, tax health care systems and threaten economies. At the same time, protests challenging America’s legacy of racist violence would erupt across the US and, eventually, the world.

Arguably, there has never been a more challenging time to be a leader in higher education. . . .

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Portrait of Fenves on the Emory quadrangle

During a 12-year tenure at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, President Fenves made an enormous impact. Under his leadership, the university recruited world-class faculty while retaining an impressive network of current faculty, broadened cross-disciplinary research, and significantly increased extramural research funding. As president of one of the largest doctoral-granting universities in the nation, Fenves strengthened graduate education and resources. Forty-eight graduate programs at the university are now ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Record of Achievement at UT Austin

Fenves’ goal throughout his tenure was to unlock the full potential of students and improve student success at UT Austin and beyond graduation. In his years as president, Fenves helped raise the university’s retention and four-year graduation rates to record levels by spearheading innovative student-success programs and increasing resources for students.

Working with the UT System Board of Regents and through astute management of generous philanthropic gifts, he made substantial new financial commitments that covered tuition and fees for students from low- and middle-income families and wrap-around support services for Pell Grant students. He also worked closely with state leaders in Texas to increase financial support for the university.

A core priority for Fenves was diversity and inclusion among the UT Austin community, beginning with the successful defense of the use of race and ethnicity as a factor in admission decisions in the 2016 US Supreme Court ruling Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. That landmark decision upheld the educational benefits of diversity in higher education. A comprehensive diversity-and-inclusion action plan has guided the university in regard to faculty, students, and the community.

Fenves created initiatives focused on experiential learning and funding opportunities for students and faculty. He was deeply engaged with both groups, meeting regularly with them to discuss concerns and developing policies to improve student life.

Among many other accomplishments, he played a central role in UT Austin’s being the first top-tier university in almost 50 years to build an academic medical center from the ground up with the founding of the Dell Medical School, which has become a key partner for communities throughout Austin.

Fenves is married to Carmel Martinez Fenves, a textile artist and former small business owner. They have two adult daughters, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, all of whom live in Austin.

Academic Career

Fenves earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree and PhD from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, all in civil engineering.

He began his academic career as an assistant professor in UT Austin’s civil engineering department in 1984. In 1988, Fenves returned to UC Berkeley, where he was on the faculty for 20 years and became an internationally renowned expert on structural engineering for earthquakes. Fenves was chair of UC Berkeley’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which is still ranked number one in the nation. He returned to UT Austin in 2008 to become dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering. Subsequent to his successful tenure as dean, Fenves was recruited to the position of provost at UT Austin in 2013 and in 2015 was appointed president.

For his groundbreaking research in earthquake engineering and academic leadership, Fenves was elected in 2014 to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest recognition for an engineer in the United States. He has received numerous national awards, including the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, the Walter L. Huber Research Prize, the Moisseiff Award, and the J. James R. Croes Medal from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

View CV (PDF)

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Media Contact

Nancy Seideman
Vice President, Academic Communications and Reputation Leadership