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John Harvard's Journal

Interim Agendas

November-December 2006

Although Derek Bok and Jeremy R. Knowles are serving as president and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), respectively, on an interim basis, both have articulated ambitious agendas engaging large University issues.

Derek Bok
Kris Snibbe / Harvard News Office

In interviews with this and other publications (see www.president.harvard.edu), Bok outlined a much more active year, with much more important substantive issues, than one might have expected when he agreed last February to return to Massachusetts Hall for a limited time. He highlighted three such priorities.

  • Undergraduate education. Bok hopes to pick up and conclude successfully the review of the College curriculum. An FAS working group of senior professors brought forward in early October a new approach to revising general education, for discussion during fall faculty meetings. Bok was thoroughly involved in the new, simultaneous effort to improve teaching, announced on September 4 (see "Taking Teaching Seriously"). His role in the swift decision to end early admissions (see "Adios, Early Admissions"), announced a week later, contributed to the sense of moving Harvard forward briskly on such issues.

  • Allston. Purchases of land for future campus development in Allston began in the late 1980s, toward the end of Boks first presidency. Now, with a first science complex being designed (see "An Allston Metamorphosis?") and a development-management organization in place, he aims to maintain momentum. A master plan is forthcoming soon, for review by the city of Boston, and internal design guidelines for future buildings are being prepared.

  • Science. Bok said the report of the University Planning Committee for Science and Engineering (see Sweeping Change for Science, September-October, page 71) reflects concerns extending beyond Harvard. As scientists pursue interdisciplinary research, of the sort envisioned for the Allston facilities, he said they sense that separate departments, programs, and schools impede the very salutary effort to do exciting research with new combinations of people. Given the responsibility of creating an environment for the best people to do their best work, Bok intends to examine how other universities may surmount such obstacles, and to work away at barriers, to cut them down to size.

Knowles, following a period of turmoil within FAS, intends above all to make the facultys affairs transparentto build common understanding of issues that a successor dean will have to address in the long-term best interest of the College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Jeremy Knowles
Justin Ide / Harvard News Office

An overarching concern, he indicated, would be to bring clarity to FASs fiscal position. The Resources Committee projected last January that costs for adding professors (the ladder-faculty ranks have grown by 56, to 719, in just the past three years) and financing and operating nearly $750 million in new buildings would result in a yawning financial gap by 2010 (see Fraught Finances, March-April, page 61). Knowles put FAS on an austerity budget during his first deanship, but the structural deficits looming nowprospectively, several tens of millions of dollars annuallyare not susceptible to a quick fix during his current, brief term. He aims, instead, to explain FASs assets and cash flows in unprecedented detail during faculty meetings this fall, engaging fellow professors in thinking through the necessary actions.

Knowles, a chemist, also expects to detail the complex issues of science planning: the institutional innovations required to support collaborative research while sustaining teaching, and the appointments needed to make use of the new facilities (most are for science).

He suggested that he might also address faculty hiring generally, taking stock of the recent rapid growth in FAS relative to planned research objectives and to teaching goals emerging from the curriculum review and the new teaching committee. Finally, in recent years, Allston planning has proceeded as an activity largely separate from the faculty. So Knowles said he hoped to explain how FASs future was not threatened by growth there; to the contrary, he perceives important opportunities for the faculty in the choices made for Allston, which will in time extend far beyond the science investments now taking shape.