Running Radcliffe

President Drew Faust on April 28 appointed Higgins professor of natural sciences Barbara J. Grosz to the deanship of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (RIAS). Grosz, a computer scientist who has been a Harvard faculty member since 1986 (, has been serving as interim dean since July 1, 2007; she now becomes the regular successor in that post to Faust, who was dean until her selection as the University’s president last year. In a statement announcing the appointment, Faust cited Grosz’s “leadership, and her lively mind, her scholarly distinction, her deep sense of institutional commitment, and her talent for creating intellectual communities and connections.” She noted that Grosz “has been one of the institute’s principal architects from its beginnings,” and, because of her responsibilities there, “is exceptionally well positioned both to guide its next phase and to strengthen its bonds with other parts of Harvard across a wide span of fields.” (For the text of the announcement, see

Photograph df Grosz

Photograph by Tony Rinaldo

Barbara J. Grosz

At a reception that afternoon at Greenleaf House, the Radcliffe dean’s Brattle Street residence, with several other deans and Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow James R. Houghton in attendance, Faust also noted that Grosz was “extremely accomplished in the realm of gender and women,” referring to her many efforts to encourage the success of women in science (see “Engineering Equity,” July-August 2005), and said, “The gender mission of Radcliffe is very well served” by the new dean. “I’m going to be thrilled to have her as a colleague in the council of deans,” Faust said (alluding to her senior academic advisory group), and pointed out the natural fit between the institute’s emphasis on a fellowship of scholars and the council’s focus on pursuing intellectual opportunities across disciplinary boundaries among Harvard schools.

Grosz’s appointment came at a symbolically important time, as the renovation of Byerly Hall neared completion in Radcliffe Yard. This fall, RIAS fellows’ offices and studios are scheduled to be brought together on campus there for the first time—a tangible sign of the institution’s ambitions to foster its distinctive brand of high-level, interdisciplinary advanced study closer than ever to the center of Harvard.


Grosz, who was recently elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering, first deeply engaged in the institute’s leadership as the RIAS dean of science, beginning in 2001. In that position, she made it possible for laboratory-based researchers to assume Radcliffe fellowships. Clusters of fellows in related fields—cosmology, for instance, or computer modeling of music in this past academic year—were appointed, to enable them to work together fruitfully during their residencies.

At the reception, Grosz spoke of an “extraordinary” year as interim dean, during which she broadened her work with all the RIAS fellows and participated in selecting the coming year’s class. She became actively involved in acquisition committee meetings at the Schlesinger Library, and now cites one of its fundamental principles—that, as library director Nancy Cott puts it, “whenever history is written, women are a central part of the story”—as a paradigm for one of Radcliffe’s roles: helping to ensure the presence of women at the frontiers of scholarship. And she plunged into other activities that were “eye-opening and greatly rewarding intellectually”—several of them detailed in an interview at Fay House a week later.

  • Next year’s gender conference. The planned theme, gender and law, will be explored widely by experts from around the world: judges, lawyers, social scientists, humanities and legal scholars.
  • Policy studies. Radcliffe has now provided some 400 fellowships, and involved scores of Harvard faculty members in exploratory and advanced seminars—limited-duration working groups that probe new research opportunities. From those contacts, Grosz said, it is conceivable that RIAS could find areas of policy where its flexibility, neutrality, and convening power could usefully be employed to bring academic and policy leaders together to research, set an agenda for, and prompt action on important but under-examined issues. She said an advisory group drawing on several professional schools and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has helped her imagine multiyear programs on potential topics such as access to clean water (involving science and social science, humanitarian aid, culture, and gender), or the institutions and processes for determining the safety of pharmaceuticals. She and executive dean Louise Richardson, a social scientist (who departs at year’s end to become principal of the University of St. Andrews), are beginning to consult with Harvard deans to identify complementary projects, and hope to pick a topic and identify faculty leaders for the first one this year.
  • Extending the institute’s reach. Grosz said she envisions systematically extending RIAS’s impact in several ways. Having funded short-term visiting scholars to complement formal clusters of fellows, she sees doing the same to support fellows whose year in residence yields spontaneous, informal collaborations. She expects such visitors to augment the exploratory and advanced seminars in similar ways. (Such visitors and temporary collaborators can be given work spaces in the institute’s offices on Concord Avenue, once the fellows relocate to Byerly, so there is plenty of capacity.) RIAS is also increasing opportunities for undergraduates to meet with visiting lecturers and to work with fellows, and, Grosz hopes, enhancing its dissertation support for doctoral students.

The institute’s inclusion of creative artists among its fellows’ ranks—a feature unique among American institutes for advanced study—is a model for recommendations that the University task force on the arts, expected to report to President Faust this fall, may wish to make. (Grosz noted that Christine Dakin, a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and a 2007-2008 fellow, was deeply engaged with students and staged a production with undergraduates.) And because Faust has reconstituted the Allston advisory group to include the entire council of deans, Grosz will be able to bring RIAS’s interdisciplinary perspective, and its knowledge of working artists and their facilities needs, directly into the Allston campus planning process.

In all, Grosz said, Radcliffe is in a strong position to build on “one of the premier fellows’ programs in the world.” (The applicant pool remains strong, with nearly 800 people seeking the 50 available positions each year.) With the Byerly project on track, the institute can “take a breather” from its extensive, multiyear program of renovation. That makes room, she said, for RIAS to focus its capabilities “in many different ways on connecting even more with what’s going on at Harvard.”

Sub topics

You might also like

Slow and Steady

A Harvard Law School graduate completes marathons in all 50 states.  

Claudine Gay in First Post-Presidency Appearance

At Morning Prayers, speaks of resilience and the unknown

The Dark History Behind Chocolate

A Harvard course on the politics and culture of food

Most popular

Claudine Gay in First Post-Presidency Appearance

At Morning Prayers, speaks of resilience and the unknown

Harvard College Reinstitutes Mandatory Testing

Applicants for the class of 2029 must submit scores.

The Dark History Behind Chocolate

A Harvard course on the politics and culture of food

More to explore

Winthrop Bell

Brief life of a philosopher and spy: 1884-1965

Capturing the American South

Photographs at the Addison Gallery of American Art 

The Happy Warrior Redux

Hubert Humphrey’s liberalism reconsidered