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Karen Thornber Named Harvard’s Next Faculty Director of Derek Bok Center

Karen Thornber Named Harvard’s Next Faculty Director of Derek Bok Center

By Courtesy of Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University
By Matan H. Josephy, Crimson Staff Writer

Karen L. Thornber, a professor of Literature and East Asian Studies, will serve as the next Faculty Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra announced in a Tuesday email to FAS affiliates.

Thornber is the second faculty director of the Bok Center, succeeding Biology professor Robert A. Lue, who was appointed to the position in 2013 and served until his death in 2020. Her term, which begins on July 1, will permanently fill the role for the first time in nearly four years.

In her email, Hoekstra praised Thornber’s experience teaching across the University, from first-year seminars and undergraduate general education courses to the Extension school.

“Professor Thornber is an extraordinary scholar, an innovative and passionate teacher, and an experienced academic leader,” Hoekstra wrote.

Thornber told the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication, that Harvard must “re-center academics and more actively promote intellectual exploration” in response to a “genuine and existential threat” faced by higher education.

Thornber’s appointment to lead the center — which seeks to discover “new and better ways to teach,” according to its website — comes amid a broader FAS effort to respond to a tumultuous year on campus and a moment of heightened scrutiny of higher education.

On Monday, Dean of Faculty Affairs and Planning Nina Zipser announced that the FAS, the largest faculty at Harvard, will stop requiring diversity, inclusion, and belonging statements when hiring faculty in a move that followed months of criticism of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

In a separate effort launched in February, Hoekstra convened a faculty committee to address classroom norms amidst potential campus protests, and a training was held for faculty on how to handle disruptions.

In her email, Hoekstra acknowledged that Thornber assumes her role at a crucial period for the FAS.

“In a moment when excellence in pedagogy will play a critical role in advancing FAS priorities,” Hoekstra wrote, “I could not be more excited to have her in this critically important role.”

—Staff writer Matan H. Josephy can be reached Follow him on X @matanjosephy.

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