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IU mourns passing of J. Michael Dunn, founding dean emeritus of Luddy School

For Immediate Release Apr 7, 2021

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Indiana University community is mourning the passing of Jon Michael Dunn, founding dean emeritus and professor emeritus of informatics and computer science at the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, and the Oscar R. Ewing professor emeritus of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences. He was 79.

J. Michael Dunn
J. Michael Dunn was the founding dean of the nation’s first school of informatics, developing it into one of the nation’s largest, broadest and best schools of its kind.Photo courtesy of the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering

Dunn, who served IU for more than a half century as a faculty member, researcher and administrator, was a highly acclaimed scholar, specializing in logic and the foundations of mathematics, as well as the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, and the formal and foundational aspects of computer science. In 2010, he was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest and most prestigious academic societies in the country.

During his career, Dunn served as a visiting professor at several top universities around the world, including at The Australian National University in 1975-76, where he first met a young graduate student, future IU President Michael A. McRobbie.

“I was truly fortunate to be mentored in my early days as a researcher by some truly great scholars and researchers, and Mike was at the very top of that list,” McRobbie said. “I first met him when I was a graduate student at ANU in 1975 and had the great privilege of working closely with him throughout the year he was there. We stayed regularly in touch thereafter.

“The first time I visited Bloomington was in 1985, and I stayed with Mike and his wife, Sally. Ten years later he was instrumental in nominating me for the position of IU’s first vice president for information technology in 1996. In a very real sense, I would not have been here were it not for Mike. He was a truly extraordinary individual and an exceptional faculty member, administrator and innovator who was deeply committed to academic excellence in all that he did.

“Mike also made enormous early contributions towards building IU’s current standing as a leader in the pervasive use and application of information technology to advance the university’s teaching and research missions. In 1997, I appointed Mike as chair of IU’s University Information Technology Committee, which produced IU’s ground-breaking IT strategic plan in 1998 that is now the gold standard for such plans in higher education.

“In the more than two decades that have followed, we have witnessed the fruits of the vision, hard work and leadership to which Mike contributed and which has resulted in world-class IT infrastructure, services and facilities that have been critical in supporting excellence in almost every area of the university’s operations.

“Mike was also the founding dean from 2000 to 2007 of the nation’s first-ever school of informatics, which, within a few short years, developed into one of the nation’s largest, broadest and best schools of its kind. Mike fully understood and appreciated the major human and societal implications of mathematics, computer science and IT. This is reflected in the broad view that the school continues to have of computing and IT education and research – a view that sets it apart from many of its peer schools.

“IU will miss Mike dearly, and I will greatly miss his wisdom, mentorship and friendship, but his legacy will live on across the many areas of the university where he had such a transformative impact. Our deepest sympathies go out to his wife, Sally; children, Jon and Jennifer; his grandchildren; other family, friends and former colleagues; and all of the many individuals who had the privilege of knowing and working with this great scholar and even greater individual.”

Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Dunn earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Oberlin College in 1963 and a Ph.D. in logic from the University of Pittsburgh three years later, under the direction of renowned logicians Alan Ross Anderson and Nuel Belnap. After brief periods at the philosophy departments at Wayne State University and Yale University, he arrived at IU in 1969. He was named a full professor in 1976 and was named the Oscar Ewing Professor of Philosophy in 1989. Dunn was also a founding member of the cognitive science program at IU.

Dunn was twice the chair of the Department of Philosophy at IU, and he was the first executive associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He also chaired 17 doctoral dissertations in philosophy, cognitive science, computer science and mathematics during his long academic career.

He was involved with the strategic planning for the establishment of an informatics program in 1998, and in 2000, then-IU President Myles Brand appointed him the founding dean of the then-School of Informatics, the first new school at IU in a quarter century.

Dunn’s guidance and passion allowed the School of Informatics to grow from an idea into a rapidly growing reality. His willingness to engage with potential students about the new school was critical to its expansion.

“I gave a lot of talks about informatics, and there was a lot of explaining,” Dunn said during the Luddy School’s 20th anniversary celebration. “In the end, that was a plus because it made it sound exciting. There were no preconceptions.”

He was passionate about multidisciplinary collaboration, and he welcomed faculty members and students from a wide range of disciplines while blending technology with the humanities. He also helped navigate a merger with the Department of Computer Science in 2005. That same year, he announced the creation of a Ph.D. program in informatics, the first of its kind in the world.

By the time of Dunn’s retirement in 2007, the future Luddy School boasted more than 70 faculty members and 1,500 students and had expanded into multiple buildings on the IU Bloomington campus.

“The entire Luddy School and its extended community are deeply saddened by the passing of Mike Dunn,” said Dennis Groth, interim dean of the Luddy School. “The tremendous success of the school can be directly linked back to Mike’s incredible leadership during its foundational years. Words cannot express our gratitude to Mike, and my sincere condolences go out to his family.”

Dunn was the author or co-author of six books and over 100 articles, and his many areas of research included information-based logics, the relations between logic and computer science, algebraic semantics and quantum logic. His work has been recognized by Fulbright, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Science Foundation. He also was the president of the board of HealthLINC, a nonprofit health information exchange in southern Indiana.

In 2007, Dunn was presented with the Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest award the state of Indiana can bestow upon one of its citizens, by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. That year, then-IU Bloomington Provost McRobbie awarded Dunn with the Provost’s Medal; it was then only the second time the medal had been awarded.

Dunn was selected a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies in 1984. He was selected to Who’s Who in America in 1985.

Additionally, Dunn served as president of the Society for Exact Philosophy and on the executive committee of the Association for Symbolic Logic. He was also editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic and chief editor of the Journal of Philosophical Logic.

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