“We’re just thrilled to be invited to join the Hokie nation,” Sands said in a news conference in Blacksburg streamed over the Internet. He then pulled out a napkin, checked some notes for his remarks and heaped praise on the school he is about to lead.
“Virginia Tech is the kind of institution that you would create today for the 21st century,” he said. “I don’t say that lightly.” He said the university’s research blends a spirit of curiosity and problem solving. “Virginia Tech has so much momentum. This is a place that clearly is not happy with the status quo, that always wants to be better,” he said.
On June 1, Sands will take over from the retiring Charles W. Steger, opening a new chapter for the state’s third-largest public university. Steger has led what is officially the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University since January 2000, overseeing a period of growth in research, enrollment and prestige. Virginia Tech now offers 215 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $450 million.
But Steger’s tenure will be forever linked to a shooting rampage in April 2007, in which a gunman killed 32 students and faculty members and took his own life.
Years of court battles and debate ensued over what critics called an unacceptable failure by the university to give the campus community timely warning of a gunman on the loose after a double murder in a dormitory. In late October, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned a jury verdict in a wrongful-death lawsuit that had awarded financial compensation to the parents of two of the victims. The court ruled that the facts were not strong enough to “conclude that the duty to protect students against third party criminal acts arose as a matter of law.”
Sands’s appointment follows a six-month search led by a committee of 22 people, more than half of them senior faculty members. The committee considered 238 candidates.
“Dr. Sands impressed many from the start and garnered even more support after our personal interviews,” Michael Quillen, leader of the school’s Board of Visitors, said in a statement. “We were particularly impressed with Tim’s sense of the modern research university’s role in advancing American society and its economy.”
Sands will have a five-year contract and receive a salary package of $700,000, according to university spokesman Larry Hincker. Sands is eligible for bonuses, although the specifics are not stipulated in his contract, and he could receive a raise if faculty members receive raises, Hincker said. Sands plans to live in the presidential mansion on campus.
Sands comes from a school that is like Virginia Tech in many ways. Purdue is 68th in the U.S. News and World Report annual rankings of national universities; Virginia Tech is 69th. Both are public land-grant universities founded shortly after the Civil War, and their size is nearly the same.
Sands, a California native, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and then a master’s degree and doctorate from that school in materials science and engineering. He started his career in 1984 with Bell Communications Research in New Jersey, now known as Telcordia Technologies. He joined the Berkeley faculty in 1993.
Sands moved to Purdue, in West Lafayette, Ind., in 2002 for a joint appointment in the School of Materials Engineering and School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. In 2006, he became director of the university’s Birck Nanotechnology Center, which brings together a dozen academic disciplines. Over the course of his career, Sands has published more than 250 papers and has been granted 16 patents.
Sands became Purdue’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost in 2010. In July 2012, he was appointed acting president of Purdue, a role he held until former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels took over in early 2013.
Sands’s wife, Laura Sands, is a nursing professor at Purdue whose research focuses on optimizing care pathways for older adults. They have four children: Amanda, KC and Kathryn, all of whom graduated from Purdue, and Haley, a junior at Purdue.