Graduate School Dean To Resign

After two years, Skocpol says she has achieved her goals

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Harvard news office

Dean of the Graduate School Theda Skocpol announced on Tuesday that she would resign from her post after just two years in office.

Theda Skocpol, the strong-willed dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), announced Tuesday that she will leave her post in June after just two years of service.

“I’m stepping down because I’ve achieved the goals that I set out for myself as GSAS dean,” Skocpol said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles wrote in an e-mailed statement that Skocpol, the Thomas professor of government and sociology, made her final decision “despite my urging that she stay,” and said that she had first informed him of her plans several weeks ago. He called her decision “unwelcome news” in an e-mail sent to the full Faculty.

Skocpol was widely considered a candidate to replace Knowles, who is serving as interim dean until July 1, but her announcement suggests that she will no longer vie for that post.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has lacked a permanent leader since historian William C. Kirby abruptly resigned under pressure from former University President Lawrence H. Summers in January of last year.

After Summers’ January 2005 remarks about the innate differences between men and women in the sciences, Skocpol emerged as one of his most outspoken critics.

Five months later, Skocpol was named to the top post at the graduate school, replacing anthropologist Peter T. Ellison, who resigned after persistent disputes with Summers. Skocpol is only the second woman to lead GSAS.

Interim University President Derek C. Bok praised Skocpol’s work over the past two years.

“Again and again, she has gone beyond the strict requirements of her position to make outstanding contributions to the quality of teaching and other important activities of the university,” Bok said in the statement. “We all owe her a great debt.”

In 1980, during Bok’s first stint as Harvard’s president, Skocpol filed a grievance against the University for gender discrimination after she was denied tenure. Bok and then-Dean of the Faculty Henry Rosovsky agreed to review Skocpol’s case and offered her tenure after she spent four years at the University of Chicago. Skocpol accepted, and became the first woman to be tenured in Harvard’s sociology department.

Watts Professor of Music Kay K. Shelemay said that Skocpol had served with “dedication and distinction” at the helm of GSAS.

“Surely she has the qualities and experience to offer leadership in a variety of institutional settings,” she said when asked about Skocpol’s future.

Under Skocpol’s leadership, all advanced Ph.D. students are now provided with dissertation support, “best practices” are shared between graduate programs, and a new Graduate Policy Committee was formed to discuss policy and challenges and opportunities for graduate education.

President-elect Drew G. Faust described Skocpol as “an outstanding leader of the GSAS,” and said today that she regretted that Skocpol had chosen to leave her position. “She has brought remarkable insight, energy, and analytical power to her role, and has accomplished a great deal not just within the GSAS but across Harvard,” Faust said in a statement. “I join the many admiring colleagues who are grateful for her service, and I hope still to benefit from her ideas and her thoughtful counsel going forward.”

Skocpol was chair of the Task Force on Teaching and Career Development, which recently issued a “Compact to Enhance Teaching and Learning at Harvard.”

The report calls for teaching to have “major and equal weight” with research.

Skocpol said she intends to stay “just as involved” in discussions on that report despite her decision to leave her administrative post.

In addition, Skocpol said she plans to keep working on training for teaching fellows, among other issues.

“I’m on the job for three more months, and I’m not going to stop doing my job,” Skocpol said.

Knowles said that he was confident that the compact would “go forward” after Skocpol steps down.

“As the report itself states, the important thing is that my successor, with President-elect Faust, press ahead with the many recommendations that are contained therein,” Knowles wrote in his statement.

The Dean of the Faculty has sole power in appointing the GSAS dean, and Knowles said that although he will gather confidential suggestions, his successor will make the ultimate appointment of Skocpol’s replacement.