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Harvard Design School Dean Mostafavi to Step Down in May

School of Design
Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

Harvard Graduate School of Design Dean Mohsen Mostafavi will step down from his position at the end of the academic year, administrators announced today.

Mostafavi, who has served as dean since 2008, endeavored to strengthen and expand the Design School’s reach in both academics and practice. Under his leadership, the School saw financial aid increase and its student body grow by roughly 50 percent.

In 2014, Mostafavi led an ambitious fundraising initiative that raised money for financial aid, new studio programs, and expanded research both in Cambridge and around the globe.

He also championed the expansion of design education and degree programs in collaboration with other Harvard schools as part of his embrace of former University President Drew G. Faust's "One Harvard" agenda. He helped forge the Master in Design Engineering program with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a new joint degree in urban planning and public health with the School of Public Health, and an undergraduate program in architecture.

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“I am proud of what we have accomplished together over the past 11 years, and I look forward to witnessing the School continue its collaborative ethos and engagement with Harvard and the world in the years to come,” Mostafavi wrote in an email sent out to Design School affiliates announcing his departure.

Mostafavi’s decision to leave his job comes after allegations of sexual and racial misconduct roiled the Design School last semester. In spring 2018, Harvard affiliates began circulating a spreadsheet that detailed anonymous allegations of misconduct perpetrated by men in architecture. The sheet listed accusations against multiple GSD affiliates including Mostafavi.

Following the spreadsheet's appearance, students hung banners — which are still on display in Gund Hall — that demanded institutional accountability and cultural change. A group of female faculty members later spoke out in support of students' activism.

The Design School has since implemented a series of changes including mandatory faculty Title IX training. It also plans to hire a new diversity dean.

“I have learned so much from my interactions with our diverse community, and feel fortunate to have worked with an amazing group of colleagues who have been supportive of the School’s many transformative projects, sharing a passion for academic excellence as well as a commitment to change our society for the better,” Mostafavi wrote in his email.

When Mostafavi returned to Harvard — where he first taught in the 1990s — to take up the deanship a decade ago, he came fresh off a stint as professor and dean of architecture, art, and planning at Cornell. Mostafavi has also taught at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Cambridge, and the Frankfurt Academy of Fine Arts.

Throughout his time as dean, Mostafavi remained a professor of design. He wrote in his email that he plans to return to teaching and research after a taking a year-long sabbatical.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said the search process for Mostafavi’s successor will begin shortly, according The Harvard Gazette, the University’s in-house news publication.

—Staff writer Ruth Zheng can be reached at ruth.zheng@thecrimson.com.

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