SEAS Dean Charts Course

New dean discusses finances, curriculum, and community at first ‘all-hands’ meeting

Much like this month’s Faculty meeting, the first “all-hands” meeting of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences last Friday went without cookies and coffee.

“We cannot go back to serving coffee to the entire world and things like that,” said new Dean Cherry A. Murray. “I would rather put that money into hiring world-class faculty.”

In front of a full lecture hall of faculty, staff, and students, Murray explained the financial status of SEAS and her plans to expand the faculty and strengthen the school’s community and curriculum.

Murray, who arrived at SEAS only a few months ago, began the meeting by saying, “My door is open, please come talk to me.”

Showing graphs of the SEAS budget and endowment, Murray said that the school was in “reasonably good financial shape but not flush,” thanks in large part to the work of her predecessor Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, who sat listening in the audience.

Currently, SEAS predicts a 5 percent drop in its endowment each year for the next few years, but Murray said she does not “anticipate” any staff layoffs in the coming year.

In an effort to foster camaraderie among the different areas of SEAS, Murray is requesting proposals for community building activities—for example, an Ultimate Frisbee game between the applied math and electrical engineering students.

She also said she hopes to have each subject area within SEAS contribute to enhancing the school-wide curriculum, adding that she plans to maintain SEAS as a small, interdisciplinary school without departments.

“We need to make sure as we grow we don’t turn into stone pipes,” Murray said.

At the end of the meeting, Murray took questions from the audience, as well as from a list compiled from anonymous online submissions.

Several of the audience members asked about a new collaboration with Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, a small school in Needham, Mass., known for its innovative undergraduate curriculum.

Murray responded that she hoped to integrate some of Olin’s ideas into the SEAS curriculum, particularly incorporating design elements into engineering classes.

“I would like to get the design in the curriculum from freshman year,” Murray said. “It’s so important for engineering and so exciting to learn that way.”

When she came to an anonymous question asking for more financial and accounting assistants, Murray asked, “That was you, Harry, wasn’t it?” causing Associate Dean of Finances Harry E. Dumay to smile and shake his head amid laughter.

After responding to a final comment about her new community building activities, Murray added, “If you want lavish cookies, you can propose that in the community building plan—but it has to be between areas.”

—Staff writer Alissa M. D’Gama can be reached at adgama@fas.harvard.edu