Interim Design Dean Will Remain in Post

In surprise decision, Altshuler chosen to take helm permanently

University President Lawrence H. Summers announced Wednesday that Alan A. Altshuler, who was elected interim dean of the Graduate School of Design (GSD) six months ago, will now assume the title of permanent dean for the school.

Summers called Altshuler, who is Stanton Professor of Urban Policy and Planning, “an outstanding scholar, a distinguished public servant, and an able administrator.”

Colleagues said the announcement came as a surprise because when Altshuler was temporarily appointed dean in July, the University said it would continue its search for a full-time dean.

But now, University officials have decided that Altshuler is fit for the permanent position.

“[Altshuler’s] superb leadership of the school as acting dean reinforced our view that [he] was the right choice,” wrote Lucie McNeil, Summers’ spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Though the University considered other candidates, McNeil added that they ultimately decided that “Professor Altshuler was our first choice.”

Altshuler, who is a political scientist by training, said he initially felt nervous about his lack of a formal background in design.

But now, with some experience under his belt, Altshuler said he has learned to rely on his colleagues in order to compensate for his own “areas of weakness.”

However, Spear Professor of Real Estate Development Richard Peiser was quick to point out Altshuler’s strengths.

“Altshuler has spent a lifetime working on issues of the built environment,” he said, referencing the new dean’s background in urban planning. “He has as good of an understanding of it as anyone.”

In fact, Peiser said, Altshuler’s inexperience in design may make him a better leader. “He will be very collaborative,” Peiser said. “He will make the extra effort to make sure the faculty has a strong voice in decisions.”

In his remarks after Summers’s announcement, Altshuler, who holds a joint appointment at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) and the GSD, where he has taught since 1988, emphasized that deans should recognize their own limitations.

“Altshuler has all the qualifications you would look for in a person with a position of senior responsibility,” said David Luberoff, who co-authored a book on urban design with Altshuler two years ago. He praised Altshuler’s modesty and said the new dean “understands how large organizations work.”

Altshuler brings extensive administrative and governing experience to the position. He has served as head of the Taubman Center for State and Local Governance and as the academic dean of KSG.

Altshuler said that his political skills will come in handy as dean.

“Deans have constituencies, just like politicians, and if they are wise they never forget it,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Their colleagues, students and donors are all highly independent actors, whose collaboration is essential to the School’s success.”

—Staff writer Sarah E.F. Milov can be reached at milov@fas.harvard.edu.