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FAS Dean Search Narrows

Two physicists said to be considered; personality is seen as key

By Johannah S. Cornblatt and Daniel J. T. Schuker, Crimson Staff Writerss

President-elect Drew G. Faust is narrowing her list of candidates in the search for the next dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), and the top contenders to head the University’s largest school appear to include several prominent Harvard scientists, according to three individuals close to the search process.

But the appointment, perhaps one of the most significant decisions of Faust’s presidency, may largely come down to personality rather than academic affiliation.

The candidates under particularly serious consideration for the job include Dean for the Physical Sciences Jeremy Bloxham and Physics Department Chair John Huth, the sources said.

Professor of the History of Science Allan M. Brandt, who also holds an appointment at Harvard Medical School; computer scientist Barbara J. Grosz, dean of science at the Radcliffe Institute, which Faust currently heads; Government Department Chair Nancy L. Rosenblum ’69, who was considered to serve as dean of FAS last spring; and Sociology Department Chair Robert J. Sampson are also mentioned as possible candidates for the post, the sources said.

The University’s flagship school has lacked a permanent leader since historian William C. Kirby resigned under pressure from then-University President Lawrence H. Summers in January last year.

Jeremy R. Knowles, the chemist who led FAS through the 1990s, returned to University Hall last summer to serve as interim dean until the selection of a permanent FAS leader.

Theda Skocpol, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), is also said to be in consideration for the FAS deanship, but her appointment is seen as unlikely, according to the three sources. Skocpol recently announced plans to leave her GSAS post after just two years in office, and some influential FAS professors and administrators have voiced skepticism about her viability for the deanship. A group of 13 professors, however, responding to reports of opposition to her candidacy, recently submitted a letter to Faust praising the GSAS dean for her “transparency, inclusiveness, and creativity.”

In recent weeks, several top Harvard administrators have expressed particular enthusiasm about Bloxham’s candidacy, the sources said. Last August, Knowles appointed Bloxham to serve as the physical sciences dean, choosing the geophysicist over Huth and other professors, two of the individuals said.

Faust is expected to make an appointment by early May, the sources said, although she does not face a strict timeline for her decision.

Top Harvard administrators have also suggested Stanfield Professor of International Peace Jeffry A. Frieden, Psychology Department Chair Stephen M. Kosslyn, and Associate Dean for Computer Science and Engineering Michael D. Smith as candidates.

The Crimson granted anonymity to the three sources because their relationships with candidates and University administrators would be compromised if they were named.

University spokesman John D. Longbrake declined to comment on the search, and many of the candidates did not return requests for comment yesterday.


Among the most important issues facing the next FAS dean are the curricular review, fundraising, the strengthening of the sciences, and the expansion into Allston, professors and administrators said in interviews over the past week.

If the pending general education proposal to replace the Core Curriculum passes a Faculty vote this spring, the next dean will oversee the implementation of the new program.

“The dean is going to have to be willing to roll up his or her sleeves and work with faculty on building new courses, reworking old courses, and really advertising” general education, Professor of Philosophy Alison Simmons, who co-chaired the Task Force on General Education, said.

The prominent place that science will likely take on the FAS agenda over the coming decade does not necessarily mean that the next dean must be a scientist, Interim President Derek C. Bok wrote in an e-mailed statement.

“Deans can always find knowledgeable people to advise them,” wrote Bok, who tapped Knowles to serve as interim dean last spring and appointed two other FAS deans during his years at the helm from 1971 to 1991.

“The more general qualities of judgment and character and breadth of interest are always more important,” he added.

But some professors think that the next dean should have some significant knowledge of science to complement Faust, a historian of the Civil War and the American South.

Simmons said that while the next dean need not be a scientist, he or she “has to be somebody who understands science and science funding” and who “has some understanding and sympathy for the scientist.”


Unlike the committee-driven process that resulted in Faust’s selection two months ago, the FAS appointment comes down largely to Faust’s personal choice.

In an interview last month, Knowles said that Faust’s chemistry with the next dean should guide her decision.

“My primary concern—and I hope that President-elect Faust thinks the same—is that whatever the gender or intellectual origin of my successor, it should be someone who is going to be a close friend and colleague of President-elect Faust, in helping her shape the future of our Faculty,” he said.

Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 said in an interview Tuesday that “the dean should be someone who can work with the divisional deans, the chairs, the dean of the College, the dean of the graduate school, the library, athletics, and admissions.”

“You need a good, collaborative person,” he added.

Gross’s predecessor, Harry R. Lewis ’68, highlighted some of the qualities the next dean should bring to the job.

“I think the sort of things the new dean of the Faculty needs are matter of judgment, the capacity to listen and take people seriously, and the ability to understand opposing forces,” he said.

Former University President Neil L. Rudenstine, in a phone interview from his New York office Monday, likened the relationship between the president and the FAS dean to a kind of intellectual and administrative marriage.

“Assuming you want to be together for 8, 10, 12 years, there’s an enormous amount that you have to get through,” he said. “There has to be a high level of mutual trust and a willingness to help one another in difficult situations, as well as a capacity to move forward in a cheerful way on many positive fronts.”

When Rudenstine was searching for a Faculty dean shortly after his appointment in 1991, he met with a few candidates several times before deciding that he had found a match in Knowles. Rudenstine said that the pool of viable candidates for dean searches is often very small, given the demands of the job and the desire to find someone who can work not only with the president, but also with professors, the provost, and other deans.

“It’s a very, very big and very difficult job,” he said.

—Claire M. Guehenno, Javier C. Hernandez, and Madeline W. Lissner contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Johannah S. Cornblatt can be reached at

—Staff writer Daniel J. T. Schuker can be reached at

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