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UTA honors longtime biology faculty member Campbell with professor emeritus status

Jonathan Campbell in the 1980s (left) and in 2019.
Jonathan Campbell in the 1980s (left) and in 2019.

Jonathan Campbell, who in his 37-year career at The University of Texas at Arlington became one of the world’s preeminent herpetologists and the leading expert on Central and South American herpetology, was honored for his contributions with professor emeritus status during a University ceremony in October.

Campbell, who retired from his position as professor of biology in January, spent his career studying the biodiversity and systematics of reptiles and amphibians, and in the process discovered many new species — many of which were on the brink of becoming extinct without ever being known.

“I’m deeply humbled by this honor from the University,” Campbell said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to come to UTA and build a career doing what I loved to do. I’m also thankful for all of my colleagues and the staff in the Department of Biology and the College of Science with whom I had the privilege to work. My years here have been highly fulfilling.”

College of Science Dean Morteza Khaledi thanked Campbell for his contributions and leadership in research, teaching, and administrative service.

“Dr. Campbell is one of the giants of his field and his significant achievements helped to raise the College of Science’s profile,” Khaledi said. “His hard work helped build a solid foundation for the Department of Biology. I’m delighted that UTA has recognized his illustrious and influential career with professor emeritus designation.”

Campbell earned a B.S. in English and Anthropology from the University of Mississippi in 1969 and moved to Texas to work in the aircraft manufacturing industry. While visiting the Fort Worth Zoo in the early 1970s he learned of a job opening in the zoo’s reptile department. He applied and was hired, starting a three-year stint which in turn led him to seek an M.S. in Biology from UTA, where he studied under the esteemed herpetologist William F. Pyburn.

Campbell received his master’s degree in 1977 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Systematics and Ecology from the University of Kansas in 1982. He returned to UTA and joined the biology faculty in 1983, essentially replacing Pyburn, who had retired the previous year.

He took over Pyburn’s role as director of UTA’s Amphibian and Reptile Diversity Research Center, a curated collection of specimens gathered during decades of field expeditions. Pyburn started the collection in the mid-1950s and by the time Campbell joined the faculty, it numbered about 10,000 specimens and was housed in the basement of the Life Sciences Building.

Under Campbell’s stewardship, the center grew steadily, reaching more than 80,000 specimens by 2000. Many of the specimens were gathered by Campbell himself during his extensive field trips to Central and South America. In 2004, the collection was moved to a new facility on the west side of campus.

Today the center is one of the largest and most respected of its kind in the world and contains more than 225,000 specimens, many of which are now extinct in areas where they were previously abundant. The center is a tremendous resource, not only for UTA faculty and students but for national and international scholars. A new peer-reviewed article utilizing items from the center is published every seven days, on average.

Campbell assumed the role of the interim department chair in 2001, and in 2003 he became a permanent chair. He continued serving in that role until 2014, managing the considerable administrative demands of the job while maintaining a rigorous research program. Under his stewardship, the department grew and brought in young faculty with research interests in ecology, evolutionary genomics, and cell biology, among other topics.

He has published more than 180 scientific articles and has made presentations at conferences and symposia around the world. His research has been funded by millions of dollars in grants from the National Science Foundation and other sources. He has received numerous awards, including the Henry S. Fitch Award for Excellence in Herpetology, given by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in 2012, and the W. Frank Blair Eminent Naturalist Award, given by the Southwestern Association of Naturalists in 2007.

He is one of a handful of UTA faculty members to be inducted to both the UTA Academy of Distinguished Teachers (2000) and the UTA Academy of Distinguished Scholars (2004), and also receiving both the UTA Distinguished Record of Research Award (1998) and the UTA Outstanding Research Achievement Award (1990). He has also received the Chancellor’s Council Excellence in Teaching Award (1990).