Sociology and African-American studies professor Michèle Lamont, an expert on the dynamics of social exclusion in France and the United States, was recently named the new diversity dean for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Although Lamont will officially assume her post in late January, Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity Judith D. Singer joked that like the Obama transition team, Lamont will have to “hit the ground running” in light of the current financial crisis and the fact that Harvard lags behind peer institutions in faculty diversity.
After consulting widely with colleagues, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith chose Lamont almost a year after government professor Lisa L. Martin left the post to move to the University of Wisconsin—accusing Smith of a lack of attention to diversity on her way out.
Lamont said she hopes to focus on advising and educating fellow Faculty members. “The carrots and sticks are in Dean Smith’s hands,” she said. “I’m basically using my knowledge to advise him and to educate the Faculty.”
Lamont’s colleagues praised her for both her affability and her high-quality research.
“She’s the kind of person you can disagree with, but you’ll continue to want to work with her,” said sociology professor Bruce Western, who served on a departmental search committee that Lamont chaired.
Duana Fullwiley, an assistant professor of African-American studies, recalled a time early in her career when Lamont invited her to coffee after they met by chance in the street and discovered they were conducting similar research.
“There’s a formality between junior and senior faculty that she was really able to dissolve,” Fullwiley said. “The only sense I got from her was that she was genuinely there to connect with me and listen. It was a rare experience.”
The diversity deanship, which has been vacant for nearly a year, will have a slightly different job description when Lamont assumes the post.
Unlike Martin, Lamont will not simultaneously chair the Standing Committee on Women. Government professor Susan J. Pharr and organismic and evolutionary biology professor Elena M. Kramer will continue to chair the committee, Lamont said.
Lamont will instead chair a new committee that will advise her and Smith on diversity issues.
But like Martin, Lamont will also serve on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Committee on Appointments and Promotions.
Lamont said that she hopes to expand Martin’s mentoring initiative, which pairs junior Faculty members with senior Faculty from the same division but different departments.
She also said that she plans to research what other universities are doing on the diversity front.
Only 9 percent of tenure-track faculty in the humanities at Harvard are minorities—in contrast to percentages of up to 33 percent at peer institutions like MIT—according to the latest report on Faculty Development and Diversity.
The report also reveals that only 31 percent of tenure-track professors in the FAS humanities are women, compared with percentages of up to 53 percent at peer institutions like Princeton.
Even though Smith announced earlier this week that he will be freezing most Faculty searches and promotions in light of the endowment’s recent plunge, Lamont said that she sees an “opportunity” in the recent financial crisis.
The Faculty’s focus on specific searches will allow departments to focus more on diversity issues if they wish, Lamont said.
“Diversity and excellence are not opposites—they’re additive,” Lamont said.
The effectiveness of Lamont’s position will largely depend on her rapport with Smith, said African-American studies Professor J. Lorand Matory, who is leaving for Duke University at the end of the year.
“And clearly, the Dean does need some further advisory support on this matter,” he said.
—Staff writer Bonnie J. Kavoussi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.