Knowles Steps Down as Dean of FAS

Bok says dean's prostate cancer "has taken a turn for the worse"; Pilbeam to assume duties

Jeremy R. Knowles has stepped down from his post at the helm of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) in order to take time to recover from prostate cancer, Interim President Derek C. Bok announced this afternoon.

David Pilbeam, currently a senior adviser to the dean of Harvard College, will serve out the remainder of Knowles' term, which was set to end on June 30, Bok wrote in a letter to the FAS community.

Knowles announced his illness last week in a letter to faculty. He worked away from the office last week and had originally planned to return to University Hall this week. Bok said in his letter that in recent days Knowles’ condition had “taken a turn for the worse.”

“No one has loved Harvard more or worked more tirelessly in its behalf,” he wrote. “In his absence, we will do our best to carry on with the important work of the Faculty and the University—as Jeremy, more than anyone, would wish.”

Pilbeam, who is Ford professor of human evolution, said in a statement that the Faculty's "thoughts and prayers" were with Knowles.

"Even though the circumstances under which I have been asked to serve as Dean on an interim basis are absolutely not what I would have wished, I am pleased to serve the FAS and the University in any way that I can," he said.

In his letter, Bok called Pilbeam a “man of the highest integrity, devoted to Harvard and to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.”

“His long experience and familiarity with University Hall make him the ideal person to assume responsibility at this difficult moment,” he wrote.

Peter T. Ellison, former dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Pilbeam's colleague in anthropology, said this afternoon that Pilbeam has quietly contributed to the University for decades.

"He has remarkable breadth of experience here in the University," Ellison said. "David is skillful and insightful and patient and very quiet in his style. I think many people may not realize what an important role he has played in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for quite a long time."

According to Ellison, Pilbeam has worked closely with Knowles since the British chemist first became dean in 1991.

"They developed a very strong, close working relationship," Ellison said. "He was trouble shooter for Jeremy Knowles and he took on a number of projects behind the scenes."

A preeminent scholar of human and primate evolution, Pilbeam is familiar with the inner workings of the University, Ellison said.

"There will be no learning curve for him," he said. "In many ways I'm surprised that his name hasn't surfaced in the search for permanent dean. In other ways I'm not, in that David wouldn't seek out that sort of role."

—Staff writer Samuel P. Jacobs can be reached


Beloved Brit to Reprise Role as FAS Dean (May 24, 2006): Derek Bok announces that Jeremy R. Knowles, the chemist who led the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) through the 1990s, will move back into University Hall to serve as the interim dean of FAS.

Faculty Furthers Core's Finale (April 18, 2007): Bok announces that Knowles is absent from the Faculty meeting due to complications from previously unannounced prostate cancer.