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Smith Reflects on Deanship, Looks to Future

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith recently announced he will step down from his post at the end of this school year.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith recently announced he will step down from his post at the end of this school year. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Angela N. Fu and Lucy Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith said the time felt “right” to step down from his position in an interview last week.

Smith first announced his resignation—ending nearly 11 years as dean—last month in an email to FAS affiliates. He wrote that he will step down once President-elect Lawrence S. Bacow appoints a new FAS Dean. Bacow officially launched the search for Smith’s successor last month and is currently seeking input from FAS affiliates.

Smith’s announcement comes on the heels of University President Drew G. Faust’s decision to resign in June. In the interview last week, he said the presidential transition gave him time to reflect and prompted him to think about what he would like to do in the years going forward.

“It just felt like the right time for me. You know, these offices are very closely linked,” Smith said of the University president and FAS dean offices.

At the most recent Faculty meeting, many professors and administrators lauded Smith for his accomplishments as dean, at one point giving him a standing ovation. Since Smith's resignation announcement, professors have praised his leadership during the financial crisis of 2008 as well as his involvement in initiatives like the development of the new Allston campus and the undergraduate House renewal project.

Smith said efforts to improve the FAS tenure track experience, to increase diversity on campus, and House renewal—a billion dollar project to renovate Harvard’s undergraduate residences—formed some of the most personally meaningful projects he worked on as dean.

He noted that some faculty members who earned tenure during his deanship have already risen to leadership roles in research and administration. Before the introduction of the tenure track in the early 2000s, FAS placed less emphasis on internal hiring and cultivating talent at the assistant and associate professor levels.

“We've brought in some tremendous young people doing incredible work across a variety of different disciplines, I think they are future leaders for us,” Smith said.

While the search for his successor continues, Smith said he will continue to work on ongoing initiatives including the University’s capital campaign, slated to wrap up in June.

“I keep doing this job because it needs to get done, so I will help out where the faculty or some of my colleagues here in University Hall want my help. We're still pushing, for example, to get to the end of the campaign. I'm still out there fundraising, still doing the job,” Smith said.

FAS passed its overall $2.5 billion capital campaign goal in 2016, and the College recently reached its financial aid goal.

Bacow announced a 13- member search committee for the new FAS dean in an email he sent to FAS affiliates last week.

Smith said he was “rightfully” not a part of the search but would help the new dean transition into the role.

“I am in the process of making sure the important kind of activities taking place in FAS do continue,” Smith said. “That'll be easier to know when I finally do know who the next person will be, and help update him or her to take over, not just what they want to do, but some of the things the faculty have said are important for us to continue doing in the future.”

Looking forward, Smith said he’s spoken with “his mentors” about next steps after he steps down from his position as dean.

“I still have things I would like to do with my life that I enjoy,” Smith said.

Smith, a Computer Science professor, mentioned he is looking forward to returning to teaching in the classroom. But he said he has no specific plans beyond that.

At least one thing about his future is certain, however—Smith will not be attending the monthly meetings of the Faculty for a while.

“I get a little time off, so I will be taking time off,” he said.

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22

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