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On Harvard FAS Dean Search, Social Sciences Dean Says, ‘Thank Goodness I Don’t Have That Job.’

Harvard Dean of Social Science Lawrence D. Bobo, pictured during the 2019 Hutchins Center Honors, said he believes the next FAS dean should come from within the University.
Harvard Dean of Social Science Lawrence D. Bobo, pictured during the 2019 Hutchins Center Honors, said he believes the next FAS dean should come from within the University. By Courtesy of Melissa Blackall
By Rysa Tahilramani and Linda Zhang, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s Dean of Social Sciences Lawrence D. Bobo said he does not want to succeed University President-Elect Claudine Gay as the next dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but added that he believes the next dean should come from the University’s own ranks.

“I’m not sure everyone wants to hunt down a job like that, but it’s a relatively demanding perch,” Bobo said in a Wednesday interview. “As I looked at the challenges that Dean Gay has faced, I’ve often said to myself, ‘Oh, my god, thank goodness, I don’t have that job.’ I have a lot of things on my desk.”

Bobo added that his “commitment” lies with cultivating the social sciences at Harvard.

“I’m passionate about the social sciences and what they mean here at Harvard, and for society at large, and so I really do love being a part of keeping this unit at a level of excellence that we can all look at with pride,” he said.

Harvard officially launched the search for the next FAS dean in early February. When asked about possible contenders for the next FAS dean, Bobo said he doesn’t know whether the search committee had begun identifying contenders.

“I don't know that their discussions are at that stage. They may be, but I would doubt it,” he said.

Bobo said the next FAS dean should be someone who “really fits in with how the place is accustomed to running and its culture and knows all the personalities.”

“I would hope they lean toward an insider. I think Harvard has a very distinctive culture,” he said.

As the FAS undergoes a change in leadership, Bobo pointed to a number of initiatives that Gay’s successor will need to marshal, including ethnic studies, hiring “young, underrepresented minority scholars,” and strategic planning.

“It’s too early to say that we’re done in the arena of ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration. There's still work to be done there,” he said.

During Wednesday’s interview, Bobo further discussed updates to the Social Sciences strategic planning process.

As part of the three-year FAS strategic planning process that launched in October 2021, the Social Sciences strategic planning process aims to align the division’s centers and departments with “the core research and teaching mission of the FAS,” according to the initiative’s website.

One result of the process so far is a more systematic tracking of faculty commitments, which has helped with “a greater degree of equity and the distribution of all of those roles and duties and modes of contributing to the broader life of the University,” according to Bobo.

Bobo also mentioned that faculty members often aren’t aware of the resources and opportunities at research centers. Another goal of the process is to ensure graduate and undergraduate students are aware of the resources available to them at research centers.

In addition, Bobo said center members would like to have input in the hiring process of departments, which has been “kind of on paper and not so much in practice.”

This has become a source of concern for core disciplines in particular, such as Economics and Government, as more scholars shift away from focusing on a sole area of expertise.

“You don’t come into economics anymore as an Africanist. You come in as a development economist, but we have an African center that needs a pipeline — potential faculty leadership,” Bobo said.

—Staff writer Rysa Tahilramani can be reached at rysa.tahilramani@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Linda Zhang can be reached at linda.zhang@thecrimson.com.

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