University of Alberta's dean of science tenders resignation, cites leadership decisions

In a letter to staff on Wednesday night, Jonathan Schaeffer said the University's leadership "has made decisions and taken actions that I cannot support."

Renowned AI researcher Jonathan Schaeffer's resignation to take effect Oct. 1

Jonathan Schaeffer has resigned his post as dean of science at the University of Alberta effective October 1. (John Ulan/University of Alberta)

University of Alberta's dean of science and renowned AI researcher Jonathan Schaeffer has resigned from his post, the university confirmed Thursday. 

In an email obtained by CBC News, Schaeffer cited decisions made by the university's leadership as the reason for his resignation. He told staff about his departure in an email sent Wednesday night.

"The University's leadership has made decisions and taken actions that I cannot support," he said in the email. "The Faculty of Science would be better served by a different leader, one who is more in line with the expectations of the President and Provost." 

Schaeffer did not refer to any specific decisions or actions in the letter. A spokesperson for the faculty said the dean was not available for comment. 

Steve Dew, provost and vice president academic, confirmed Schaeffer would resume his research program as a full professor in the Department of Computing Science.

"As dean, Jonathan has played an important role in DeepMind's decision to open its first international research lab here in Edmonton and helped to ensure that the U of A is a key player in the federal government's $125 million pan-Canadian artificial intelligence strategy," Dew wrote in a statement, released Thursday. 

Dew said an interim dean would be appointed "in due course."

AI leader

Schaeffer has been at the U of A for nearly 35 years and has held the deanship since 2012. 

Schaeffer gained international public acclaim in 1994 when his checkers-playing Chinook computer program became the first to win a human world championship in any game.

In 2007, the program definitively solved the game of checkers, cementing Schaeffer's place in the pantheon of AI research. The computer program was able to guarantee a draw or a win in every game. 

"I look forward to normal length working days, free time on the weekends, worry-free sleep, and receiving less than 100 emails a day," Schaeffer wrote in the letter announcing his resignation. 

"It has been a pleasure being part of the excitement in the Faculty of Science."  

Schaeffer's resignation takes effect on Oct. 1.