The University of Michigan Board of Regents approved the appointment of Timothy James to the Lewis E. Wehmeyer and Elaine Prince Wehmeyer Professorship in the Taxonomy of Fungi for a five-year renewable term, effective December 1, 2015 through November 30, 2020. 

“It's a honor to become the Wehmeyer Chair,” said James. “I feel extremely indebted to the generosity of the Wehmeyer family who through their donation made possible the continuation of the incredible legacy of excellence in mycology research at the university going over these last 50 years. I'm looking forward to making the most of this opportunity.”

Professor Lewis Edgar Wehmeyer (1897-1971) was a U-M faculty member in the Department of Botany from 1928-1968. Wehmeyer was a mycologist, a scholar specializing in the scientific study of Fungi (one of the three kingdoms of multicellular organisms).

In 1981, a bequest was made in his name and his spouse’s name, Elaine Prince Wehmeyer (1902-1979), to endow a professorial chair in mycology in two then independent units: the U-M Herbarium (currently a subunit of EEB) and the (now defunct) Department of Botany. The U-M Board of Regents formally established the endowed chair as a collegiate professorship at their December 1981 meeting.

James joined U-M in 2009 with a joint appointment in the EEB department (as assistant professor) and in the U-M Herbarium, then an independent unit of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (as assistant curator of mycology). Both units merged in 2011 giving James a 100 percent appointment within EEB. On September 1, 2015, he was promoted to associate professor (with tenure) and associate curator of fungi (without tenure). “In six years, Tim James has established a vibrant and comprehensive mycological program at U-M that is characterized by excellence in research, teaching, curation and service,” said Diarmaid Ó Foighil, EEB professor and chair.

The depth and visibility of his mycological scholarly contributions are evident in his impressive research productivity and citation record, the journals in which he has published, including the highly regarded Science, Nature, PNAS and Current Biology, and by the multiple awards he has won from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and other granting bodies. The external letters received as part of his recent promotion evaluation spoke to his superb scholarly reputation; they collectively viewed James as among the very best in his field. They cited his scholarly impact across a number of major research themes in fungal biodiversity including our understanding of the earliest branching events in the evolutionary history of this kingdom, the complex genetics of fungal mating systems and how they shape population genetic structure in nature, and the development of a fully-fledged research program on pathogenic chytrid fungi responsible for severe declines in global amphibian populations. In 2011, he received the prestigious C. J. Alexopoulos Prize, awarded by the Mycological Society of America to an outstanding early career mycologist based on the quality, originality, and quantity of their published work.

James is a superb instructor and student advisor. This attribute was formally recognized a few months ago by his receipt of a prestigious 2015 Class of 1923 Memorial Teaching Award. Much of that teaching excellence is focused on his EEB 468 Biology of Fungi course that provides a comprehensive introduction to fungal biodiversity and that has garnered him multiple 5.0 scores in student evaluations. James stands out in his commitment to the education of underrepresented minorities in the department and he has been a major player in the success of the department’s groundbreaking Frontiers Master’s Program.

James is a proactive and engaged curator of fungi at the U-M Herbarium where he is responsible for 280,000 specimens of macro- and micro-fungi and 58,000 specimens of lichens. He has won three significant National Science Foundation databasing grants, one focused on lichens and bryophytes, another on North American macrofungi, and a more recent one on North American microfungi that aim to make our valuable complete collection holdings online-accessible to global scholars for the first time. He also plans to introduce modern next generation DNA genotyping approaches to the collection material in order to raise the research profile and potential of this marvelous biodiversity resource.

A significant fraction of James’s external service entails mycology-associated activity. Over the past 12 years, he has served on the student awards committee of the Mycological Society of America and he also served as a councilor in systematics and evolution and as a member of the Annual Karling Lecture Committee for the same organization. He is an associate editor of the journal Mycologia and reviews manuscripts for a number of other journals. James also engages in public outreach via internet and public presentations, such as giving public lectures, leading “mushroom walks” and giving tours of the U-M Herbarium collection to the Michigan Botanical Club and the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club.

Mushroom caps off to James! 

Timothy James leads a mushroom walk at the U-M Biological Station retreat. Image credit: Paul Dunlap.