Kosslyn To Step Down as Social Science Div. Dean

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean of Social Science Stephen M. Kosslyn has accepted a position at Stanford to lead its behavioral sciences center, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith announced Monday.

Kosslyn, an expert in cognitive neuroscience, will leave Harvard in January 2011 to serve as the director of Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. The FAS administration has not yet found a successor to fill Kosslyn’s imminent vacancy, according to Smith.

“Dean Kosslyn has been a visionary leader...skillfully advancing creative new initiatives to both enliven and strengthen the Social Science division while confronting the challenges of significantly constrained resources,” Smith said in the announcement. “The Center for Advanced Study will benefit, as we well know, from a leader who quite naturally cultivates innovative thinking and catalyzes collaboration across disciplines.”

The Center for Advanced Study is an interdisciplinary institute established in 1954 that offers residential and postdoctoral fellowship programs aiming “to address critical issues facing today’s society,” according to its website.

With his recent appointment at Stanford, Kosslyn will be returning to familiar ground—a “homecoming of sorts for Steve,” as Smith wrote in his statement. Kosslyn received his B.A. in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and his Ph.D. in the same subject from Stanford.


Kosslyn first joined the Harvard faculty in 1977 as an associate professor and, after brief stints at Brandeis and Johns Hopkins Universities, returned to Harvard.

Hailed as a pioneer in the field of cognitive neuroscience, Kosslyn rose to the top of the psychology department as chair, serving in the position from 2005 to 2008. He then succeeded Economics Professor David M. Cutler ’87 to become the second-ever chair of the social sciences division. Cutler’s term in office had been set for five years.

Established in 2003 under the leadership of former FAS Dean William C. Kirby, the Division of Social Science at Harvard consists of 10 degree committees and departments, and 22 other programs, institutes, centers, and museums, according to the division’s website.

Kosslyn, who has published over 300 scientific papers and written or edited 28 books, focuses his research on visual mental imagery and visual communication. He has received numerous honors such as the National Academy of Sciences Initiatives in Research Award and the Prix Jean-Louis Signoret.

Kosslyn could not be reached for comment.

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at


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