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University President Lawrence H. Summers has been championing the life sciences since he arrived at Mass. Hall. One of his top administrators, Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, has instituted new deanships to spearhead interdisciplinary efforts. Now the wills of these two administrative giants have converged in a new commitment to a Center for Systems Neurosciences.
Kirby will officially announce the Center’s creation in the coming weeks. A smaller precursor of the center—created after a 1999 proposal by Meister and Pierce Professor of Psychology Ken Nakayama—has been running for two years.
Kirby deserves high praise for following through on Nakayama’s initiative and for helping expand the life sciences. Neuroscience is a relatively new field that holds a great deal of promise. With a strong presence in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), the Center for Systems Neuroscience will prove a valuable asset as Harvard advances its cutting edge scientific research. The interdisciplinary cooperation fostered by the new Center will accelerate progress and allow researchers to redefine Harvard’s place in the sciences.
The 10 new faculty members who will be recruited for this center represent a rather considerable proportion of the 60-70 new hires Kirby has guaranteed for the next ten years. These additions are a concrete testament to Kirby’s dedication to a higher degree of interdisciplinary work in FAS. The yet-to-be-filled post of Divisional Dean for the Life Sciences has the opportunity to oversee a sensible integration of the fields that will participate in the new Center. The new hires will also ease the financial burden on academic departments, since salary costs will be shared equally by the Center and contributing departments.
As an achievement in multidisciplinary and innovative planning, the Center for Systems Neurosciences should excite the College. And FAS should contemplate parallel initiatives in the humanities and social sciences. The life sciences are in an unprecedented period of progress, are promising advances are the most visible in the sciences. Still, other FAS academic areas are in equal need of resources and human investment. Kirby’s expansion of the Faculty has begun, and should pave the way for continued development of Harvard’s excellence in all fields.
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