Cal Poly’s dean of engineering to step down

Mohammad Noori, the dean of Cal Poly’s College of Engineering, will step down Wednesday and return to teaching, the university announced Thursday.

Erling Smith will assume the dean’s duties in his capacity as Cal Poly’s vice provost for programs and planning until a new dean can be identified next year, Provost Bob Koob said.

“Erling Smith is a logical choice for this transition period,” Koob said in a statement. “Erling was successful in leading the campus recently to complete Cal Poly’s strategic plan, and those skills are particularly well suited to the engineering college’s need to map out its own strategic plan.”

Noori came under fire after critics claimed he lacked strong leadership, fundraising skills and good judgment as a manager. He is expected to return to the faculty to teach mechanical engineering, according to Cal Poly officials.

Faculty complaints included budget deficits, allegations that money wasn’t allocated properly and growing class sizes in some departments.

And they cite his role in trying to form a university partnership with the Saudi Arabian government to set up an engineering college there.

The deal fell through over a contractual disagreement, but that was after some questioned the ethics of the proposal and voiced complaints about the segregation of women and discrimination against minorities in education in Saudi Arabia. Critics also said Noori should have backed out of any negotiations from the start.

Two years ago, faculty members Unny Menon, Michael Cirovic, James Meagher, Rakesh Goel and Frank Owen presented a complaint to former Cal Poly Provost William Durgin seeking Noori’s reassignment.

Noori has been dean for four years, in which time the College of Engineering’s enrollment has grown by about 5,000 students, making it the university’s largest college.

For the second year in a row in 2009, U.S. News and World Report named Cal Poly’s engineering program the nation’s best for schools whose highest degree is a bachelor’s or master’s.

Vice Provost Smith was formerly a professor of civil engineering and served as department head, associate dean and interim dean at the University of Connecticut, according to the university. He has received six National Science Foundation grants and served as an evaluator for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.