Harvard’s Graduate School Dean Steps Down

Allan Brandt faces health issue; Richard Tarrant is interim dean.

Allan M. Brandt

Allan M. Brandt, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences since January 2008, is stepping down from that position to address a health issue requiring immediate treatment. The announcement was made today in an e-mail to colleagues from Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) dean Michael D. Smith, who appointed Brandt in late 2007. Smith also announced that Richard J. Tarrant, Pope professor of the Latin language and literature, will serve as interim dean; he previously served as acting dean of GSAS in 1995-96. Smith solicited nominations for the GSAS deanship (suggestions can be e-mailed to fasdean@fas.harvard.edu).

GSAS Deanship

Brandt became dean at an expansive moment, only to face the challenge of leading GSAS through the financial disruptions following the fiscal crisis of 2008 and after. Harvard, like some peer research universities, initially reduced graduate admissions somewhat to assure that it could maintain scholarships and stipends for students already enrolled. But Brandt’s decanal tenure has been much more about improvements than retrenchment. Among the highlights:

In his announcement to the faculty, Dean Smith put particular emphasis on the student body during Brandt’s GSAS leadership:

In the five admissions cycles he has overseen, the quality of our entering Ph.D. and A.M. classes has risen to unprecedented heights, as have the number of applications to GSAS. During the recent period of fiscal uncertainty, Allan worked tirelessly to address the pressures placed on our graduate students. His move to raise graduate student stipends, along with his other efforts to enhance the graduate student experience, is enabling us to successfully recruit the most talented graduate students in the world.

Allan has been particularly vocal about his commitment to increasing the diversity of our Ph.D. programs. He and his staff have introduced a set of reforms to the recruiting, admissions, and retention processes that resulted last year in the most successful yield of admitted minority students and this year in a 23 percent jump in applications from underrepresented minorities.

Smith concluded, “I feel privileged to have worked alongside Allan for the past four years. Please join me in thanking Allan for his service to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and for stewarding our Graduate School with such discerning vision and far-reaching dedication.” On behalf of FAS colleagues, he observed, “I know you will join me in sending our very best wishes to Allan at this time. We look forward to his ongoing contributions to the FAS and the University when he returns to the faculty.” In a separate University news release, President Drew Faust praised Brandt “as an eloquent voice in support of the University’s highest intellectual aspirations,” and wished him “a speedy and full recovery.”

Benjamin Woodring, a doctoral candidate in English who as president of the Graduate Student Council worked with Brandt, said in the release that the dean "inspired students to think expansively about the potential of the work we're doing at Harvard. He made us believe in the impact our work could have on the world—and of the crucial importance of the mission we're all engaged in." 

Scholarly Background

Brandt, who holds joint appointments as Kass professor of the history of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of the history of science in FAS, is an acclaimed scholar of the history of medicine and of social and ethical aspects of health and disease. His book The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America, was a 2008 Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the Bancroft Prize. The research that preceded publication is described here.

He was tapped to write the overview article for the 200th anniversary of the New England Journal of Medicine, the premier medical journal worldwide (an accompanying audio interview with Brandt can be accessed there as well). His article, published this January, concluded:

During the Journal's first 200 years of publication, medicine and health care moved from the social periphery to become dominant aspects of our science, culture, and economy. The Journal unquestionably owes its success and stability to this monumental shift in the status, authority, and impact of biomedicine. But the Journal has also played a critical role in these developments. By combining a commitment to publishing papers of scrupulous scientific merit across wide-ranging domains, with a recognition of the central questions and values uniting the profession, the Journal has remained true to its founders' vision. It has recognized that advances in medical science can finally be assessed only in the context of delivery, care, and outcome. The Journal reflects today, as at its inception, a view that medical science and its applications are fundamentally tied to patient care and public health. It therefore continues to draw a range of readers wider than [founding editor John Collins] Warren could have imagined. Today, the ability to disseminate publications so widely through digital technologies promises to bring innovations in medical knowledge to a new set of global constituents. The first hundred issues of Warren's journal were, of course, distributed on horseback.

No one having looked at the last 200 years of medicine—in which changes came so quickly and dramatically—would hazard a prediction about the next two decades, let alone the next two centuries. Nonetheless, as vast as these changes have been, there are substantial continuities in the nature of scientific inquiry, the care of the patient, and powerful questions concerning the public's health. Today we say that medicine is a “public good.” But though their society, culture, skills, and science differed so profoundly from ours, those who started this Journal in 1812 undoubtedly understood that basic truth.

Before he became GSAS dean, Brand had chaired the history of science department for five years. His dual FAS and HMS appointments proved useful in leading the University’s increasingly interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs. And immediately before assuming his GSAS responsibilities, he had begun participating in an academic review of all of the graduate school’s programs. He was director of the then-new social-sciences track in the joint M.D.-Ph.D. program, combining work in anthropology, health policy, government, or psychology with clinical medicine, and had also served as director of the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments.

Within the College, Brandt taught both a freshman seminar, on the tobacco pandemic, and “Medicine and Society in America” in the Core curriculum (the predecessor to the current General Education curriculum). As GSAS dean, he has remained engaged in undergraduate education, both through the Graduate Seminars in General Education and through such services as moderating “Instilling a Global Perspective,” one of the 2011 FAS “Conversations” on teaching and learning.


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