Last week, a decade after University President Neil L. Rudenstine reinvented the role of the Harvard provost, Steven E. Hyman became the fourth man to fill that role. And with the University’s number two office at a historical crossroads, the best indicator of the direction in which he might take it is the interfaculty initiative he once directed: Mind, Brain and Behavior (MBB).
Like his boss-to-be, Lawrence H. Summers, Hyman, currently the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), won’t be a familiar face in Harvard Yard when he arrives. But interfaculty initiatives, the hallmark of the provost’s office under Hyman’s predecessors, were designed to prompt academic collaboration between the University’s disparate parts, and MBB—arguably the crown jewel of those programs—has his fingerprints all over it.
“The faculty in very diverse disciplines realized that they needed each other,” Hyman says. “That’s something I’d like to build on.”
“I think that was a particular challenge demonstrating his leadership because it involved engaging senior faculty from non-scientific disciplines in an initiative that was clearly grounded in neuroscience,” says Harvard Medical School Draper Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Joseph T. Coyle, who chaired the psychiatry department when Hyman was a professor there.
Though the provost’s office has worked since its inception to unite Harvard’s oft-divergent faculties, unifying the University remains a top item on Summers’ agenda. And many point to Hyman’s role in the MBB program as a sure sign that he’s the right man for the job.
“He brought together scholars from a wide range of disciplines, many of whom did not even know that they had interests in common with each other,” says Albert Carnesale, who was Harvard’s provost in MBB’s early days.
McLean Hospital President and HMS Psychiatry Professor Bruce D. Cohen says the NIMH post and the provostship require similar approaches.
“You have a variety of different constituencies and you’re trying to pull them together to reach a greater vision,” Cohen says.
Hyman’s Harvard tenure began more than 25 years ago as a student at HMS. After graduating magna cum laude in 1980, he climbed the academic ladder to become a professor of psychiatry at HMS, and director of psychiatry research at Massachusetts General Hospital.
While at HMS, Hyman played a major role in organizing the neuroscience curriculum, led major research initiatives and served as founding director of MBB.
When National Institutes of Health then-President Harold Varmus tapped Hyman for the NIMH post in 1996, Hyman was presented with a mammoth task—balancing the needs of scientists, politicians, and patients—and a $1 billion budget.
“It was much bigger than anything he’d ever been up against,” says friend and former colleague Associate Professor of Neurobiology Barry E. Kosofsky of Harvard Medical School.
But with scientific savvy and administrative skills, NIMH Deputy Director Richard K. Nakamura says, Hyman made major changes.
“He helped to transform the institute into a very forward-looking, exciting research institute,” HMS Dean Joseph Martin adds.
But his interest in change may not be easy for everyone, Kosofsky predicts.
“He likes to implement change and make things better, and some people may find that difficult,” Kosofsky says.
In addition to sweeping administrative changes, Nakamura says, Hyman led NIMH efforts to make patient care a priority.
“Steve was one of the first to really involve the people we’re supposed to be working for—the citizens, the consumers,” adds Cohen.
Colleagues are quick to point out that just as Hyman left his mark on the institute, he, too, was transformed by the experience.
“I think his time in Washington allowed him to get a much broader perspective outside of the academic community and also really hone his administrative skills,” Kosofsky says.
As he led large-scale changes at HMS and NIMH, Hyman himself evolved.
Martin, who first met Hyman when he was a medical student, says, “I’ve watched him mature into a great administrator.”
Konradi says Hyman learned to be comfortable making tough decisions.
“Steve’s definitely a people person. He could sell you anything,” Konradi said. “He has a very political mind, in a good way. He can incorporate the needs of the people with the needs of the job. He knows where the buck stops.”
Medical School Ties
Though they are hesitant to prematurely discuss the relationship between the provost’s office and the medical school, HMS officials say they are excited to see Hyman’s familiar face in Mass. Hall.
“It’s really quite comforting to know there’s someone over in the Cambidge campus who we know, who we trust, and who we can work with,” Martin says.
“I would hope that this would permit the medical school to be more engaged in the overall scholarly activites of the University,” Coyle says. “Sometimes that river can seem like an ocean.”
Konradi says she knew Hyman would return to Cambridge someday.
“One way or another, he was going to come back,” she says. “He really likes it here.”
—Staff writer Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at email@example.com.