The University of Iowa Distinguished Chair recognizes and rewards exceptional University of Iowa scholars of national and international distinction who are contributing to the institution, the state of Iowa, and beyond through their outstanding achievements in scholarship, teaching, and/or service.  This is a five-year term appointment.  

Faculty selected for this recognition will receive one-time funding of $250,000 disbursed over the five years of the appointment.  This funding will be provided by the Office of the Provost and will be allocated annually in $50,000 increments to support their activities. The appointment is effective at the beginning of the academic year and the title of Distinguished University Chair will be held by the awardee as long as they remain a faculty member in good standing at the University of Iowa.  All full-time tenured full professors are eligible.  If they currently hold an endowed position they must agree to relinquish the position if awarded the Distinguished Chair. It is anticipated that two Chairs will be awarded each year.

At the conclusion of the five-year term, the awardee will submit a summary of how the University of Iowa Distinguished Chair supported continued excellence in their scholarship, teaching, and/or service.

Nominations will only be accepted from collegiate deans. Complete nominations should be submitted to as a single pdf file.

Nominations of women, underrepresented minorities, and other groups historically underrepresented in their discipline are encouraged.

Completed nominations must include: 

From the nominee (submitted to the collegiate dean):

  • Current CV
  • A statement of no more than two pages describing the nominee’s contributions to the field and how their research, teaching, and/or scholarship has contributed to the institution, the State and the discipline. 
  • Three examples of scholarly products. 
  • Names and contact information of three to five faculty, both internal and external, who can provide letters of support. 

From the collegiate dean: 

  • A nomination letter from the collegiate dean highlighting the nominee’s qualifications and describing the candidate’s scholarship, teaching, and/or service excellence and evidence of the potential for continued extraordinary productivity. 
  • Three letters of support from faculty who are familiar with the candidate’s contributions are to be solicited by the dean. One letter must be external to the university. The letter should include the following: 
    • A brief explanation of the professional relationship to the nominee. 
    • Evidence of the quality of the candidate’s work and impact on the field. 
    • Evidence of the candidate’s substantial recognition nationally and internationally among their peers. 
  • The materials supplied by the candidate.

Nominations will be reviewed by the University Chair committee, which is composed of three tenured full professors, the president of Faculty Senate or their designee, and the associate provost for faculty. The selection committee will recommend awardees to the executive vice president and provost for final approval. 


Professors Peter Thorne and Lea VanderVelde have been named recipients of the University of Iowa Distinguished Chair in spring 2022.

Peter Thorne, College of Public Health

Peter Thorne

Thorne, who also serves as the director of the Human Toxicology Program within the Graduate College, joined the Iowa faculty in 1988. His pioneering research is focused on environmental risk factors for inflammatory lung diseases, the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials and persistent chemical pollutants, and the health effects of climate change. Thorne is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences in translating complex environmental health science to public policy. He is serving a third, three-year term on the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and served two years as chair. Thorne was a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology for six years. He is the current chair of the academy’s Committee on Toxicology. At Iowa, Thorne directed the Environmental Health Sciences Research Center for 20 years and served as head of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health for 12 years. He has led the Pulmonary Toxicology Facility core since 1993. Thorne was awarded the 2017 UI Scholar of the Year and the 2018 Iowa Board of Regents Award for Faculty Excellence. He teaches courses on health effects of climate change, global environmental health, and human toxicology. He has mentored 25 PhD students, 30 master’s students, and 18 postdoctoral fellows. With his students and staff, he has published more than 290 peer-reviewed publications.

Lea VanderVelde, College of Law

Lea VanderVelde

VanderVelde—one of the first women ever tenured in the College of Law—joined Iowa as a visiting faculty member in 1978. Her research focuses on how American civil rights and civil liberties law was formed during Reconstruction, bringing to light the 13th Amendment’s potential for addressing current issues. VanderVelde has been involved in initiatives to advance civil liberties and end modern slavery, authoring several amicus briefs and successfully nominating her friend Kailash Satyarthi, for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She has pursued digital research technology through the Reconstruction Amendment Optical Scanning (RAOS) project, which she founded more than 20 years ago. She successfully digitized the Congressional debates from 1863 to 1873, which will be useful for legislative histories. In cooperation with state historical societies, she has made discoveries about the territorial histories of Iowa and all of the surrounding states of the Northwest Territory. She is the author of five major books, two history monographs, two leading casebooks, and a primer for text analysis. One of her books, Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier, reveals the previously untold story of the enslaved mother and family at the center of the nation’s most infamous lawsuit. VanderVelde was the Guggenheim fellow in Constitutional Studies for 2011, the recipient of the May Brodbeck Humanities fellowship for 2019, the 2020 winner of the Brophy prize for best article in legal history published in the American Journal of Legal History, and the 2022 UI Scholar of the Year. She is a life fellow of the American Law Institute, where she was active in the Restatement of Employment Law and the Restatement of Agency. She has been a member of the Wisconsin State Bar since 1978 and has lectured at universities around the world.


Professors Michelle Scherer and Stanley Perlman have been named recipients of the University of Iowa Distinguished Chair in spring 2021.

Stanley Perlman, Carver College of Medicine

Stanley Perlman

Perlman, a 39-year member of the UI, is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, where he holds the Mark Stinski Chair in Virology with a secondary appointment in the Department of Pediatrics. Perlman is one of the world’s leaders in coronavirus research and was poised to make important contributions to the global pandemic. In a recent article in Nature, his lab—in conjunction with the lab of Paul McCray Jr., a longtime collaborator in the Department of Pediatrics—developed a model that will allow scientists to gain a better understanding of COVID-19 and develop and test treatments. Perlman has been a national voice during the pandemic, being interviewed by ABC News, CBS This Morning, NPR, The New York Times, and many others. In addition to his international spotlight, Perlman remains a role model in the department for research, education, and academic service. He has served on the graduate thesis committee of 74 trainees and mentored 22 PhD students and more than 14 postdoctoral fellows.

Michelle Scherer, College of Engineering 

Michelle Scherer

Scherer joined the UI in 1998 and is a professor in the College of Engineering. Scherer is an environmental engineer and is a leader in discovering new ways to keep water safe by shedding light on fundamental processes in soils and, more recently, leading a campaign to assess Iowans’ exposure to lead in their drinking water. She has published more than 70 journal articles and is internationally recognized for her work. As departmental executive officer of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering for nearly eight years (2010 to 2018), Scherer led the effort to create the first environmental engineering Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree offered in Iowa. In addition, she helped develop a new, innovative graduate research training program focused on sustainable water development. She has served as a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Engineering Scientific Advisory Board and as associate editor of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.


Professors Corinne Peek-Asa and Caroline Tolbert were named the inaugural awardees of the UI Distinguished Professorship program by the University of Iowa Office of the Provost.

Corinne Peek-Asa, College of Public Health

Corinne Peek-Asa

Peek-Asa began teaching at the UI in 2001, serves as associate dean for research and professor in the College of Public Health, and is director of the Injury Prevention Research Center and the UI International Trauma and Violence Research Training Program. She often is described as the leading injury control researcher of her generation. Her work has inspired national legislation, and she helped develop injury and violence data collection systems in five countries. She created a workplace violence prevention program that was implemented in eight U.S. cities and she collaborated with the Cedar Rapids Community School District to create an innovative and unique arts-based bullying prevention toolkit for educators. She is a widely sought speaker and has served on national boards. On campus, she sits on the executive committee for the UI’s Public Policy Center, where she has developed and conducted research and led grant applications. She has developed courses for new undergraduate programs and service-learning programs with the Cedar Rapids Community School District. She has helped faculty in her college remain competitive as traditional sources of grant funding shrink, and her teaching and research have been recognized with local and national awards. In recognition of outstanding accomplishment for a lifetime record of service and achievement that provides a role model for women and girls, she received the UI May Brodbeck Distinguished Achievement Award. In February 2020, she was the UI’s 37th Presidential Lecturer.

Caroline Tolbert, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Caroline Tolbert

Tolbert began teaching at the UI in 2006 and is a professor of political science. She is an internationally known scholar in areas of opportunity and inequality; elections and representation; technology policy; local economic development; and politics and policy for states, counties, metros, and neighborhoods. Her research is foundational for understanding the internet’s influence on politics and inequality, and she has been ranked among the top 40 most cited female political scientists. Her books and articles have been published by highly ranked political science publishers and journals. She is the coauthor of Accessible Elections: How the States can Help Americans Vote, and Why Iowa? How Caucuses and Sequential Elections Improve the Presidential Nominating Process. With Karen Mossberger, she co-authored three books on the internet, economic opportunity, and political participation. She is the past president of the State Politics and Policy section of the American Political Science Association. Recently, she contributed to economic development in Iowa through grants to study and compile data on the effect of broadband access on economic outcomes. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Democracy Fund, MacArthur Foundation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and others. On campus, she collaborates with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning on its graduate program in public affairs, and she creates courses on timely issues such as the role of social media in politics.