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Two months after Harvard launched the search for the next dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said during an interview on Thursday that the process is “well underway,” but “no announcement is imminent.”
“We are committed to taking as long as it takes to get the best possible person to fill the role,” he said.
Outgoing FAS Dean Claudine Gay and Garber are co-leading the process to select Gay’s successor, after Gay was named the 30th president of Harvard. Gay will succeed University President Lawrence S. Bacow on July 1.
Gay’s ascension to the presidency created the fourth Harvard dean vacancy. Leaders of Harvard’s School of Public Health, Divinity School, and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences all announced last semester that they intend to depart from their roles at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.
The FAS dean is one of the most powerful academic leaders in the University. The role requires leading more than 1,200 faculty members and overseeing four Harvard schools: the College, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Extension School.
Garber declined to provide specific answers about the timeline of the FAS dean search, whether the search is down to a shortlist of candidates, or whether the process will conclude before Gay leaves her post in University Hall in the beginning of July.
“We don’t commit to having it completed by a certain date because our number one priority is to get the best person, and sometimes it can be done relatively quickly and sometimes it takes longer,” he said.
Garber also declined to discuss whether they are considering appointing an interim FAS dean if the search for Gay’s successor extends past July 1, but said that they “always make provisions for continuity of leadership.”
“Once you get late enough in the term before somebody steps down, we tend to make provisions to ensure that we have one or more people in mind as possible interims,” he said.
“I do not think that President Gay will still be dean of FAS Gay at the same time,” Garber added.
Garber said any dean, including the FAS dean, should possess certain qualities, such as “being able to exert intellectual leadership, being able to express a vision, being able to understand and implement the values of the community.”
During the search process, Garber said FAS-affiliated students, staff, faculty, and alumni have pointed to the importance of these characteristics in the next FAS dean.
“Pretty much what we’ve heard from the community is what you would expect,” he said.
Despite some affiliates, including Dean of Social Sciences Lawrence D. Bobo, expressing hope that the next FAS dean will come from within Harvard’s own ranks, Garber would not commit to selecting an internal candidate during Thursday’s interview.
“I have been involved in numerous dean searches in my time as provost, including the selection of all of the sitting deans,” Garber said. “I can’t recall an instance where we said we would only look internal or we would only look external.”
Garber also discussed some of the challenges that the next FAS dean will encounter over the coming years, pointing to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and the need to maintain financial stability.
“This includes funding financial aid adequately for the long term,” he said. “It also includes being able to grow the faculty and staff at an appropriate rate so that we can ensure that we remain at the forefront of the intellectual opportunities that academia has.”
Garber reaffirmed the importance of maintaining balance across STEM, social sciences, and humanities, saying that he doesn’t “see a future in which the dean of FAS will ever sacrifice one area to benefit another.”
“I believe that we need to have leadership who will ensure excellence in the sciences, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities, regardless of their professional background,” he said.
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