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FAS Fails To Pick Science Dean

Despite hopes, search for life science administrator has yet to yield a hire

By Alexandra N. Atiya, Crimson Staff Writer

After almost a year of concerted effort and at least two unsuccessful overtures, the committee charged with searching for a life sciences divisional dean has failed to fill the post, according to biology and chemistry professors.

Members of the Life Science Executive Committee—the body currently acting in place of a dean—said it appears that no internal or external appointment will be made.

This means that the Life Sciences, currently the only one of four divisions in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) without a dean, will continue to lack a single administrator to ferret out hires, approve new initiatives and represent the departments to Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby. Earlier this fall, Kirby was optimistic that the post would be filled by this spring.

Five professors contacted for this story said they had neither seen nor heard of new candidates since January, when three non-Harvard professors visited campus.

“At this stage of the year, it’s likely that we’re going to go into next year without a dean,” said Lyman Professor of Biology Andrew Biewener, who sits on the executive committee. “I would be surprised if there was anyone identified in the context of this year’s search.”

Nonetheless, professors have agreed that a divisional dean is necessary in the future to represent the life sciences adequately to Kirby.

“There is support from members from the life sciences executive committee that we need to continue recruiting a dean for life sciences,” Biewener said. “Representation to the dean [of the Faculty] is important.”

Currently, it is unclear why the search failed to draw a suitable candidate. Kirby and the search committee had intended to hire a prominent researcher with interdisciplinary appeal, and were willing to invest considerable resources in such a professor.

Candidates considered earlier this year—Randy Schekman from the University of California at Berkeley and Gerald F. Joyce, from the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif.—would neither confirm nor deny that they were offered the position. Yet both expressed strong attachment to their laboratories at home, and Schenkman a belief in the value of public education.

But as Biewener points out, the task of luring a researcher away from his home lab, particularly to a job with such heavy administrative duties, is more complex than the average hire.

“It takes the right person for the job and the right job to attract the person,” Biewener said. “We want people who have a strong level of activity on the research field.”

“The dean may be wanting to reconsider the scope of the tasks assigned and the resources allocated to that position,” he added.

Professors say that because of the unsuccessful search, it is likely that the executive committee, which chair Douglas A. Melton had initially conceived of as a temporary “placeholder” for a divisional dean, will continue to report to Kirby throughout next year.

The nine-person executive committee is composed of the chairs of the life sciences departments—molecular and cellular biology (MCB), biological anthropology, psychology, chemistry and organismic and evolutionary biology (OEB)—as well as representatives of the relevant scientific initiatives.

Currently, Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Markus Meister represents the nascent systems neuroscience initiative, which Washington University professors Joshua R. Sanes and Jeffrey W. Litchman will direct next year. Melton represents the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, which he began to co-direct with Associate Professor of Medicine David T. Scadden this year. But the Microbial Sciences Initiative, which Kirby approved just two weeks ago, is unrepresented.

As the initiatives continue to expand, the make-up of the committee is likely to change.

Moreover, according to Chair of MCB Andrew P. McMahon, both he and Stuart L. Schreiber, chair of chemistry and chemical biology, are turning over their titles, which would further alter the composition of the committee.

Despite lacking a formal dean, most professors said they were satisfied with the basic structure and progress of the committee, which they said incorporated the opinions of all departments and effectively discussed initiatives and hiring.

Last fall, Melton said the executive committee would steer clear of discussions of hiring, leaving those to the new dean, whenever he or she would arrive.

But as the year progressed, more and more professors began to address the issue of interdisciplinary hires, a natural result, according to McMahon, of an integrated committee.

McMahon said the committee is even working now with Dean of the Physical Sciences and the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti to hire a professors in the area of computational biology.

Despite the delay, all professors interviewed expressed confidence that the search would continue next year.

—Staff writer Alexandra N. Atiya can be reached at

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