He Nursed The Med School To Health

The Medical School became the most recent Harvard organ in search of a new chief executive yesterday when Dean Joseph B. Martin announced that he would conclude his term in July.

The Medical School will now begin a dean search at the same time as Harvard looks for a new president and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences seeks to find a new dean.

The search won’t be concluded for several months. Interim President Derek C. Bok, who has already said that he will not select the next Faculty dean himself, has chosen as well to defer this decision to the as-yet-unnamed 28th University president.

“Joe Martin has served the Harvard Medical School and the University with integrity, imagination, and great distinction,” Bok said in a statement yesterday.

And Martin will continue to serve the school after he steps down from his administrative post. He’ll stay on board as a professor of neurobiology, and he will retain his leadership role at the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair (HCNR), which he helped found.

But first, Martin will take a year-long sabbatical—which he said will most likely include a trip to the British Isles.


In a phone interview last night, Martin said that his term as dean has been “the best experience of my life.”

He has overseen the school’s physical expansion as well as the creation of the nation’s largest comprehensive cancer care center, but Martin said, “I want to be remembered first as a dean of students.”

Martin said he is proud of his effort to increase training in ethics, community health, and anthropology.

“We’ve completely transformed the medical curriculum,” he said.

Third-year students at the school previously had moved among seven clinical rotations in a 12-month time-span. “Just moving from one site to another during that principal clinical experience was disruptive,” he recalled.

Martin has sought to bring stability to third-year students. “We think for that one year, they’re much better off embedded in a single hospital,” he said.


Martin came to power at a tumultuous time in the school’s history. Two Harvard-affiliated hospitals, Massachussetts General and Brigham and Women’s, merged in 1993. And three more, Beth-Israel, Deaconess, and Mount Auburn, joined together in 1996.

Looking for a leader who would steer the school through a period of change, then-President Neil L. Rudenstine named Martin to the deanship starting in 1997, bringing him to Harvard after a four-year stint as chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco.

“The situation at the time was one when the health care system as a whole was in jeopardy.” Rudenstine recalled in a phone interview yesterday. “We needed someone who knew the situation well, which he did.” Martin had served on Harvard’s faculty from 1978 to 1989.

Martin worked to foster cooperation across the massive Medical School, which encompasses 7,100 full-time faculty members—more than any other arm of Harvard.

“It’s going to become a cliché, but one of the many things Joe has done is continually remind people of the potential benefits of working together,” HCNR Director Adrian J. Ivinson said.

Martin managed Harvard’s merger with the Dana-Farber Cancer Insitute in 1999. The move brought together more than 800 Harvard faculty and received a $50 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

In a similar vein, the Martin administration drove the development of the Harvard Clinical Research Institute, which funnels investments from businesses to the medical community.

Martin also launched the HCNR, which helped link 700 scientists in an effort to combat neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Martin also pushed to increase the school’s diversity, promoting many women and minorities and appointing Joan Reede the school’s dean for diversity and community partnership—making her, according to Harvard, the first African-American female dean in the University’s history.

The Medical School’s growth in cultural diversity was matched by physical enlargement, as Martin’s term saw the construction of the 525,000-square-foot New Research Building, Harvard’s largest building.

But one of the landmarks that makes Martin most proud lies inside Vanderbilt Hall, a student residence.

“They named a lounge there for me,” he said. The Joseph B. Martin Student Lounge opened earlier this year.