Others agreed and said that both Knowles and Whitesides, if offered the job, would have a hard time agreeing to take on the position.
"It is a total change in career," said Dudley R. Herschbach, Baird professor of science and a Nobel laureate. "They both are very dedicated to science, and would have to do a lot of soul searching to decide if this is what they really want to do. For each of them it it would be essentially the rest of their careers."
But Hershbach disagrees that a scientist would necessarily be any better for the deanship than another senior faculty member from a different field.
"The most important single thing is to have a real vision of the University and that he or she has an ability to comprehend and understand human chemistry," said Hershbach. "That's more important than molecular chemistry."
Other scholars agreed, saying personal characteristics are more important than scholarly background.
"I am not sure it matters much," said Ciappenelli. "It would be nice, but that is a very parochial, almost provincial point."
"The problems of science are complex and interaction with Washington is becoming thick and muddled," added Ciappianni. "But again it doesn't have to be a scientist to solve these problems."
Still, the appointment of a scientist in University Hall's top post would not be an unwelcome sight in the North Yard.
"I personally think there is a tradition to have scientists involved in the administration," said Professor of Chemistry Cynthia M. Friend. Before Bok, who is a law scholar, two of Harvard's presidents in this century, James Bryant Conant '14 and Charles W. Eliot '04, were scientists