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Knowles Knows FAS

The Rudenstine Era Begins

By Lan N. Nguyen

Biochemist Jeremy R. Knowles, the newly appointed dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, hardly fits the stereotype of the reclusive scientist.

Indeed, the new dean is exuberant, witty and at ease in the corner office of University Hall. After only two months at the Faculty helm, Knowles has developed quite a reputation: his colleagues and associates say he never fails to charm entire meetings with a clever quip or humorous tale.

Jeremy Knowles knows how to make an impression. When you meet him, his small frame is energetic, and he is always on the move. One moment, he is slouched in his chair artfully dodging a question, and the next sends him racing across the room into his desk to dig up some pertinent, or not-so-pertinent, fact.

By no means is Knowles a disinterested or stoic listener or speaker. He strives to shift and angle his body to maximize personal contact. One cannot help but be disarmed when the University's number two administrator eagerly leans forward to pass along a personal insight.

Under Knowles, the FAS dean's office has undergone its second redecoration in three years. Knowles has removed a closet, which he says ruined the glamor of the late 18th century room.

"The whole shape of the room looked like it had a bite taken out of it," says Knowles.

Now, hanging in the open space are portraits of the Reverend of the First Cambridge Church Nathaniel Appleton (Class of 1712) and the Reverend's wife. Knowles says, with a wry smile, that the minister's wife (in the portrait) scares him back to work with her frown, if he should ever procrastinate.

Besides redecorating his office, Knowles has been busy with numerous other matters facing the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Throughout the summer, he met with all FAS department heads in their offices.

While departmental concerns were on the agenda, Knowles, forever the interior decorator says he observed "marvelous" idiosyncracies of various departments. "The English Department was lined with books, Philosophy was dark-paneled, and Physics was rather modern," he says.

Knowles says he wanted to make an informal expedition to observe the culture of other departments and find out what they perceived were the problems facing their areas.

"Dean [Henry] Rosovsky has said that being a dean is a bit like being a dentist...because it always hurts and is often expensive," Knowles says, veering from the serious to the humorous and back again. "I didn't want, in the summer, to be a dentist."

"I am interested to see how departments live," he continues. "It is important to get the different cultural threads of different departments."

According to the dean, some departments face faculty staffing problems, some say graduate students need better funding, while others are concerned about the shrinking library space.

But the one issue that looms before the new dean is the $10 million budget deficit. "We must look seriously at all kinds of major expenses," says Knowles, adding that Harvard, however, has not suffered to the extent that other higher education institutions have.

"We at Harvard have been, at the moment, extremely fortunate not to have imposed...the kind of draconian measures that other institutions had to impose," he says.

But Knowles cautions against misplaced optimism. "Higher education is in financial retrenchment," he says, and schools will find it difficult to avoid cuts.

This year alone, FAS experienced an unexpected loss of $1 million when they received more financial aid requests than usual. The funds went to help students whose families were hit hard by the recession and the weakened Northeastern economy.

Although Dean Knowles is not yet ready to outline any specific measures his office will adopt in the following year, he says that areas of major spending like salaries, financial aid, libraries and laboratories needs scrutiny. He adds that despite the budgetary crisis, he will not have it overwhelm his office.

"We are looking at both expense and income," he says. "Of course we want income to be higher than expense when you have a deficit."

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