President-designate Neil L. Rudenstine will not hold himself to "mechanical" deadlines in choosing a new dean of the Faculty, the former Princeton provost said in a recent letter sent to professors.
In the May 2 letter, Rudenstine said that his goal is to have a new dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) appointed and prepared to take office by July 1--when acting Dean Henry Rosovsky steps down.
The FAS deanship has often been considered the number two administrative post at Harvard.
Rudenstine stressed in the letter that there is no set timetable for the appointment. The exact timing, he said, "will inevitably depend to some considerable extent on the interest and readiness of excellent candidates to consider undertaking the very substantial duties of so demanding and obviously critical a post."
The letter did not name candidates and did not say how many faculty members are being considered for the job, but there has been some speculation that Rudenstine may have a short list of four candidates for the post.
"I have no higher priority than to make the best possible appointment to the deanship," wrote Rudenstine, adding, "I believe that this should be done as expeditiously as possible, consistent only with our determination not to sacrifice quality to meet an artifically established or 'mechanical' deadline."
Rudenstine said that he has met "at some length" with members of the advisory committee on the dean search, convened last year by President Derek C. Bok. That committee includes Adams University Professor Bernard Bailyn, Porter University Professor Helen H. Vendler, Reisinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures Jurij Streidter, Baird Professor of Science E.O. Wilson, Williams Professor of History and Political Sciences Roderick MacFarquhar.
Faculty members contacted yesterday lauded Rudenstine's efforts and said they for the most part agree that the University should not be held to a strict deadline.
"Dean Rosovsky might have something to say about it, but I think it is the right view to get the right person in position," said Donald J. Ciappenelli, head tutor of the Chemistry Department and director of the chemical laboratories.
Other faculty members echoed those remarks and added that the letter helped reassure them that their voice would not go unheard.
"I think many people feel left out and I think this letter is useful in that regard," said William H. Bossert, Arnold professor of science. "He said he is working with the advisory committee and that's great."
Much of the speculation on likely candidates has focused on a handful of scientists. Those names mentioned include Mallinckrodt Professor of Chemistry George M. Whitesides '60, Houghton Professor of Chemistry Jeremy R. Knowles and Rotch Professor of Atmospheric Science Micheal B. McElroy. Knowles and McElroy were also candidates for the Harvard presidency.
"There are so many problems with science teaching, the curriculum and funding that it might not be a bad deal to have a scientists," said Bossert.
But Bossert added that he felt it unlikely that Knowles would be willing to consider the job again. Knowles, who has been called a top candidate for the post, reportedly turned down the deanship when Rosovsky stepped down from his original appointment more than seven years ago.
"The real problem with this job is that many of the people you'd want for the job would not want it, and many of the people who want the job you don't want," said Bossert.