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Harvard School of Public Health Dean Search ‘Nearing the End,’ Says President Claudine Gay

In a Wednesday interview, University President Claudine Gay said the University is nearing a decision on the next dean of the Harvard School of Public Health.
In a Wednesday interview, University President Claudine Gay said the University is nearing a decision on the next dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. By Julian J. Giordano
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard President Claudine Gay said the search for the next School of Public Health dean is “nearing the end,” nearly 11 months after former HSPH Dean Michelle A. Williams announced she would step down at the close of the 2022-23 academic year.

In addition to the HSPH dean vacancy, Gay is also searching for a successor to outgoing Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf and looking to fill an open seat on the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.

Before the start of the fall semester, Gay announced her selections for the three other dean vacancies she inherited as president-elect.

In an interview on Wednesday, her first with The Crimson since assuming office in July, Gay attributed the delay in the HSPH dean search, in part, to wanting “to be respectful for people’s time in the summer.”

“But I’m happy with the work that has unfolded in support of that process,” Gay said. “We’re feeling close to the end.”

“I feel like my life at this point is just a collection of searches,” Gay added.

David M. Rubenstein, a billionaire philanthropist, stepped down from the Harvard Corporation at the end of June after six years on the board. Since then, the Corporation has been searching for another member to succeed him, potentially one with similar financial expertise.

Gay said the search for Rubenstein’s successor is “still ongoing,” but “hopefully we’ll be able to fill it sooner rather than later.”

Historically, the Corporation has looked to anticipate and quickly fill vacancies. Tracy Pun Palandjian ’93 — the most recent appointment — was announced to the board nearly three months before her predecessor, former senior fellow William F. Lee ’72, officially stepped down.

Still, Gay did not directly answer a question about whether the Corporation was caught off guard by Rubenstein’s decision to leave the board after the end of his first six-year term.

“Oh, wow,” Gay said. “I couldn’t speak to that at all.”

“All I know is that this search is being executed with care and thinking about the expertise that we want to have around the table,” she added.

Gay said that “finding a worthy successor” to Rubenstein is going to take time.

“Just as when we’re identifying deans, you’re looking for the right person for the role, and it’s hard to force that into some kind of arbitrary timeline,” Gay added. “But it has not been lost on anyone that there’s an empty seat around the table.”

Gay said maintaining gender parity on the Corporation “occupies a prominent place in my thinking” when searching for a person to fill the empty seat.

Prior to Rubenstein’s departure, the Harvard Corporation reached gender parity with the appointments of Penny S. Pritzker ’81 and Carolyn A. “Biddy” Martin in 2018.

“Any leadership body, any decision-making party benefits from being diverse — and that’s diverse across every possible dimension,” Gay said. “The Corporation, like other leadership groups around campus, have really benefited from that.”

The Corporation is also facing another vacancy at the end of the 2023-24 academic year, when longtime University Treasurer Paul J. Finnegan ’75 will have to step down after he reaches the end of his second term.

​​—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on X @mherszenhorn or on Threads @mileshersz.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on X @claireyuan33.

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