DEAS to Form Separate School

Along with renaming the division, Harvard to expand engineering faculty

The Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences (DEAS)—a part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences that is home to hundreds of applied math, physics, computer science, and engineering faculty and students—will become its own school under a proposal to be voted on this fall, the University announced yesterday.

In a surprise reversal, Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, the current dean of DEAS, said he would nix his plans to step down next month and remain on staff to guide the school through its transition.

If approved by FAS, the new school will put Harvard on equal footing with institutions that house autonomous engineering schools and boast larger faculties.

“It will allow us to continue to attract the kind of faculty and students we want at a time when all major engineering schools in the country are expanding their programs,” Venky, the Armstrong professor of engineering and applied sciences, told a meeting of the FAS last week.

Under the proposal—more than four years in the making—the school’s full-time faculty will expand by approximately 30 positions—through joint appointments with other graduate schools and FAS positions—to bring the total faculty size to 100. By contrast, CalTech and Princeton have cultivated faculties of more than 100 professors, and cross-town competitor MIT has nearly 360 engineering faculty, according to Venky.

Keeping with tradition, the school will not segregate into academic departments under the plan. In addition, the new school will allow DEAS professors to better collaborate internally with Harvard’s other professional schools, Venky said.

“I think this will also mean that within Harvard, other parts of the University will take us seriously,” Venky said.

“Growing the faculty will increase opportunities within engineering and establish new collaborations that will be more successful because they’ll be with our neighbors and our friends at Harvard,” Assistant Professor of Bioengineering Deborah T. Auguste said yesterday.

The new institution will operate as a school within FAS, and undergraduates will continue to enroll in engineering and applied sciences concentrations through Harvard College.

Currently, the College boasts an overall yield rate of 80 percent, while only 74.5 percent of high school students interested in engineering end up coming to Harvard, Venky said. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of graduate applicants ultimately choose DEAS, and Venky added that he would like to see both numbers increase.

The new school, if approved, would likely make up a significant portion of the plans for Harvard’s Allston campus. A 2005 task force report concluded that “any new planning efforts must now be coordinated and integrated with Harvard’s existing activities in the sciences and engineering.”

The transition to a new school had originally been planned for Venky’s successor, but a search for a new DEAS dean was delayed by the resignation of both University President Lawrence H. Summers and FAS Dean William C. Kirby earlier this year, Venky said. When Summers, Provost Steven E. Hyman, and members of the Board of Overseers urged Venky to stay on as dean, the veteran administrator decided to withdraw his resignation.

“I’m humbled, but I’m looking forward to serving the faculty for a reasonable period of time again,” he said. “I will leave whenever I’m comfortable that I can leave the new school in good shape.”

The fruition of the proposal marked a lame-duck victory for University President Lawrence H. Summers, whose tenure as president ends in just five weeks. In an interview yesterday, Summers said, the new school would be the first new school at Harvard in three and a half decades.

“As I like to say, great scientific achievement is about Einstein, but it’s also about Edison,” Summers said.

—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at jhernand@fas.harvard.edu.