Government and African and African American Studies Professor Claudine Gay will serve as the next Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced Monday.
Gay, who currently serves as the FAS Dean of Social Science, will take office Aug. 15. Her appointment concludes a four-month search for a new FAS dean after current dean Michael D. Smith said in March that he planned to resign as soon as Bacow found his replacement.
Gay will be the first woman and the first person of color to hold the position since its inception in the early 1940s.
In deciding whether or not to take on the deanship—a decision Gay said she made “relatively recently”—Gay said she pondered what she could contribute to the role.
“I thought a lot about what the charge would be, whether or not I have something to give to it, and how I can grow,” Gay said in an interview Monday morning. “Once I answered those questions for myself, I was pretty excited to take on the responsibility.”
Gay received her B.A. in Economics from Stanford University before traveling across the country to earn her Ph.D. from Harvard’s Government department. She then returned to Stanford, working as an assistant professor and later a tenured associate professor in the school’s political science department—where she also served as the director of undergraduate studies—before coming to Harvard as a Professor of Government in 2006. She was appointed as a professor of African American Studies in 2008 and Smith chose her to serve as the Dean of Social Science in 2015.
The appointment of a new FAS dean marks one of the first major decisions of Bacow’s presidency, which officially began July 1. As FAS dean, Gay will oversee the University’s largest faculty and work closely with Bacow as she heads a school that the new president previously described as “the center of Harvard’s academic enterprise.”
In an announcement Monday, Bacow wrote that Gay is “an eminent political scientist, an admired teacher and mentor, and an experienced leader with a talent for collaboration and a passion for academic excellence.”
“She radiates a concern for others, and for how what we do here can help improve lives far beyond our walls. I am confident she will lead the FAS with the vitality and the values that characterize universities at their best,” he wrote.
Gay inherits a number of challenges including the ongoing project to renovate Harvard’s undergraduate Houses and the opening of a second campus in Allston in 2020. She will also face financial difficulties stemming from the University’s years of poor endowment returns—and she will confront a graduate student body that recently unionized for the first time in Harvard history.
Gay said she plans to spend her first few months as FAS dean having conversations with other parts of FAS. She said her priorities will likely emerge from those conversations.
“Ours is an incredibly diverse community and so without listening and learning, it's impossible for any agenda to take shape,” Gay said. “The one thing I can say for sure about my agenda will be is that whatever I choose to focus on, it's going to be informed by some basic value commitments that I have that have really shaped my work in the division—so commitments to transparency and equity and diversity.”
Gay previously served on FAS’s Committee on Appointments and Promotions, the FAS Committee on General Education, and as a Radcliffe Fellow. Earlier this year, she was a member of the 13-member faculty advisory group consulted during the presidential search that culminated in Bacow’s appointment. She is also the founding chair of Harvard’s Inequality in America Initiative, which seeks to bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines to study issues of inequality.
Gay said she plans to continue pursuing her work in the Initiative and that her new role will grant her a “new vantage point.”
“One of the priorities that I've had over the last year and a half for the division has been doing work to elevate the teaching and research that we do on equality,” Gay said. “For a lot of the work we've been doing on the initiative, the center of gravity has really been in the social sciences, and it'll be great to start looking more broadly at other parts of the FAS.”
Gay, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, will take on a role—like the University presidency— that has traditionally been held exclusively by white men. Following Bacow’s selection, some students said they were disappointed the presidency had not gone to a female candidate or candidate of color.
Bacow, along with University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, began the FAS Dean search in March, days after Smith announced he would be stepping down after 11 years in the position. In the months since he formally launched the search, Bacow and Garber met with faculty and students to solicit input.
During the search, two groups wrote letters calling on Bacow to choose a dean who would prioritize the development of a formalized ethnic studies program. The first letter, penned by the Ethnic Studies Coalition, garnered the signatures of nearly 50 Harvard student and alumni organizations.
Gay said she is “optimistic” about this issue and has authorized faculty searches this past year in an effort to recruit more faculty to meet the demand from students.
“I think that there is a lot that we can do to address what remains an unmet need in this particular curricular area,” Gay said.
In the Monday announcement, Smith wrote his successor is an “inspired choice.”
“Claudine is a thoughtful academic leader who listens generously, delights in the intellectual diversity and energy of our community, and is driven by a deep commitment to our mission of teaching and research excellence and to this institution,” he wrote.
Bacow thanked both Smith for his 11 years in the role and the faculty members who advised his search. He wrote that he know Gay will benefit from “your warm welcome.”
“Thanks for helping both a new dean and a new president get acclimated to our new roles, at such a pivotal time for higher education,” he wrote.
—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.
—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lucyyloo22.