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Melton To Chair Life Sciences Council

By Stephen M. Marks, Crimson Staff Writer

Acting Life Sciences Dean Douglas A. Melton will become chair of the Life Sciences Council in a “dean by committee” arrangement, concluding a nearly year-long nationwide search for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ (FAS) final divisional dean.

The University announced yesterday that Melton, who is the Cabot professor of the natural sciences, will head the council, which will include the leaders of life science departments and initiatives. The council will coordinate faculty appointments and plan for the future of the life sciences.

Since September, Melton has served as acting life sciences dean and chair of the Life Sciences Executive Committee, which oversaw the life sciences in lieu of a dean this year. Unlike divisional deans and the newly established council, this committee did not consider faculty appointments, although it did handle planning for life sciences.

University President Lawrence H. Summers said Melton will not serve as a full divisional dean “because he wants to carry on very much his portfolio of scientific research, supported by the Howard Hughes.”

Melton is one of the world’s leading stem cell researchers and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Earlier this year, he created 17 new stem cell lines, and he will co-direct the new Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Howard Hughes grants don’t permit recipients to do administrative work, according to Dean of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Dean of the Physical Sciences Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti.

“It’s obviously not easy to find deans in biology,” said Venky, who served on this year’s search committee for a life sciences dean. “And one of the reasons it’s not easy to find [is that] many of the leading people you look at, they have Howard Hughes grants.”

Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby said the Life Sciences Council is built on the structure of this year’s executive committee.

“This is a structure that worked well,” he said.

The search for a life science dean will not continue, now that Melton will lead the council, Summers said.

“There is a sense of looking at outside candidates,” Summers said. “But a person who had looked terrific all along—we were able to persuade him to take this.”

Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Markus Meister said Melton would likely delegate some of the less critical administrative work, while focusing on fostering new initiatives.

“I think that he’s going to limit himself to the issues that he sees are most important,” he said. “He’ll probably leave a lot of less important matters to the individual departments and other administrators who are already engaged with them.”

Earlier this year, Melton said he only signed up for this administrative position for a year, describing his role as a “placeholder” until the search committee selected a permanent dean.

“When I agreed to chair this committee, the clear understanding was that this was not the creation of...a standing committee,” he said in November. “My view is that when there is a new divisional dean we might spend a few meetings talking to the person about what we’ve accomplished as a committee and then hand it all over to her and say go for it.”

Venky said that he looked forward to working with Melton, even though Melton would not serve as a full-time dean.

“Obviously if we could have gotten somebody who would actually have taken the full dean title it would have been good, but you know maybe this is not a bad way of experimenting,” he said. “Right now, it’s very good that he’s going to do it—it provides some stability.”

While three outside candidates for the job visited in January during the search, including Randy Schekman from the University of California at Berkeley and Gerald F. Joyce from the Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif., talks with these candidates were ultimately unsuccessful.

“There’s a lot of mutual feeling out before anything gets officially offered or officially rejected,” Meister said. “It never proceeded far enough, I would say, to get the faculty involved.”

Venky said that while they were in talks with a number of outside candidates, no offers had been made.

“We looked at all the possibilities, then we went outside too, people say ‘you’ve got Doug Melton, you’ve got Andrew Murray, you’ve got some good people, you should be looking at them,’” he said.

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at

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