School of Optometry announces new dean

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John Flanagan, a professor of optometry, ophthalmology and vision science, will begin his five-year term as the eighth dean of the UC Berkeley School of Optometry in June 2014.

Flanagan, who serves on the faculties at the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto in Canada, will succeed Dennis Levi, the longest-serving dean on campus.

“He’ll be a big loss for us, but for him and for Berkeley, it’s a great thing,” said Paul Murphy, director of the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Waterloo. “He’ll bring with him a good broad understanding of optometry, ophthalmology and vision science … He’s a big guy in optometry.”

Flanagan received his training in the United Kingdom, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in optometry and vision sciences in 1980 and his doctorate in 1985 from Aston University.

His decision to apply for dean of UC Berkeley’s optometry school came naturally, Flanagan said.

“Berkeley is really the No. 1 school of optometry in the world,” he said. “Being a dean at Berkeley is the top job in optometry.”

Levi, a professor of optometry and vision science and neuroscience, highlighted Flanagan’s experience as a practicing clinician and his special interest in researching glaucoma, a common degenerative disease that leads to damage in the optic nerve.

“He is one of those rare individuals who is able to cross the divide between clinical practice and research, and he brings an entirely new area of research to the school — one that is very central to the profession,” Levi said in an email.

Flanagan has authored more than 140 peer-reviewed publications. He spent most of his career researching mechanisms that instigate glaucoma, financed by continuous research funding for more than 25 years from multiple research foundations.

Although Flanagan has also received a variety of awards for his research, he said he was especially proud of the 2011 Institute of Medical Science Mel Silverman Mentorship Award from the University of Toronto for his supervision of graduate students.

Flanagan also said he recognizes the legacy that Levi will leave behind.

“Dennis Levi has a huge reputation in optometry and is really a gentle giant in so many ways,” Flanagan said. “If I can do half of what he’s done, I’ll probably be considered a good dean.”

Levi became the seventh dean of the school in 2001 and will retire from the position on June 30, 2014.

Although Levi will step down as dean, he will remain at UC Berkeley as a professor of optometry and vision science.

“I’ve always heard that being a professor at Berkeley is a great gig, and I’m looking forward to giving that a try, and especially to spend more time in my lab,” Levi said in the email.

Somin Park covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected].