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Harvard SEAS Faculty Reflect on Outgoing Dean, Say Successor Should Be Top Scholar

The Science and Engineering Complex in Allston is the main building that houses Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
The Science and Engineering Complex in Allston is the main building that houses Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. By Julian J. Giordano
By Mert Geyiktepe, Crimson Staff Writer

As Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Francis J. Doyle III prepares to depart from Harvard after eight years at the school, SEAS professors reflected on his tenure and voiced preferences for a successor who builds on his key initiatives.

Doyle, previously a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, became SEAS’ top leader in 2015. As dean, Doyle oversaw the historic move of two-thirds of the SEAS faculty to a new campus in Allston, a project that was announced in 2014 and cost $1 billion.

In December, Harvard announced that Doyle would depart from Harvard to become the provost at Brown University. Two months later, Harvard President-elect Claudine Gay kicked off the search for Doyle’s successor.

Several faculty members said they want a SEAS dean who has both an administrative and academic background — similar to Doyle.

“We don’t need just an administrator,” said Federico Capasso, a professor of Applied Physics and a scientist at Bell Laboratories before joining Harvard in 2003. “That would be a mistake.”

“Administrators have a great job to do, but they should not tell the faculty what to do,” he added. “So I’m really adamant that the next dean should be a top scholar.”

David A. Weitz, professor of Physics and of Applied Physics, also said he believes the next dean should be a scholar.

“You need somebody who is a strong person and my experience is people who are administrators don’t have the strength of being able to project things,” he said. “People who are good scientists tend to be better suited for the kind of leadership you need.”

“We have a lot of administrators,” he added. “We need some leaders.”

David C. Bell, a professor of the practice of electron microscopy who serves as associate director of the Center for Nanoscale Systems, praised Doyle’s leadership at a time of transition for the school. According to Bell, the faculty was torn between those who “didn’t like the idea of splitting up SEAS” and those who were “very enthusiastic about going into a new building.”

“I think the one important thing that Frank did that hadn’t been done prior to his arrival was he got everybody involved and had multiple meetings about Allston and multiple meetings with the faculty about how things were going to develop and how things were going to evolve,” Bell said in a February interview.

“He was a diplomat as well as being very approachable,” he added “You could bring him problems — whether he’d fix them or not, is a different thing. But you could bring him issues or concerns that you had and he would try to help you out.”

Capasso said he was initially “skeptical” about the move to Allston but was ultimately satisfied with Doyle’s management.

“At the end, you have to look for the results,” Capasso said. “I know that people who moved to Allston are very happy with it.”

Jonathan E. Frankle, an incoming assistant professor of Computer Science, said Doyle was a “big part of the reason” why he joined Harvard.

Frankle, who is currently chief scientist at artificial intelligence startup MosaicML, said he had worked with Doyle to advocate for the funding of the Kempner Institute for the Study of Artificial and Natural Intelligence. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan ’07 pledged $500 million to found the Kempner Institute in December 2021.

SEAS “is an exciting place for great research,” Frankle said.

“It’s a place that’s growing,” he added. “It’s a place that’s tightly integrated with everything else Harvard has to offer.”

“I think Dean Doyle had a big hand in that forward-leaning, that energy, that ambition that Harvard engineering has,” Frankle said.

—Staff writer Mert Geyiktepe can be reached at mert.geyiktepe@thecrimson.com.

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