Donald Pfister Named Harvard College Interim Dean

Former Kirkland House master takes office on July 10.

Donald Pfister

Donald Pfister, dean of Harvard Summer School and Gray professor of systematic botany, has been appointed interim dean of Harvard College, effective July 10. In making the announcement, Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), said the former Kirkland House master’s “deep engagement with both undergraduate education and with the learning communities of the Houses, combined with his outstanding leadership of the Summer School, make him uniquely well prepared to guide the College through this period of transition.”

As master and co-master of Kirkland House from 1982 through 2000, Pfister and his wife, Cathleen, were known for hosting pizza study breaks and dessert socials. A highly regarded teacher whose courses on plant and fungal biology range from freshman seminars to graduate seminars, he was honored in 2004 for 25 years of teaching at the Extension School. Since joining the Harvard biology department in 1974, he has served on numerous FAS committees and has been a member of the Administrative Board for University Extension since 1998. After becoming dean of the Summer School in 2008, he introduced innovative courses to the program in Cambridge and supported the creation of several new faculty-led study-abroad programs. 

“The College is filled with talented, energetic students who breathe so much life into this University and I have always enjoyed engaging with them in and out of the classroom. Certainly in this new role, that will continue,” Pfister said. “I know the staff of the College is also talented, and committed to meeting any challenge that arises. I look forward to working with all of them to continue to move the College forward in reaching its goals and fulfilling its mission.”

Pfister succeeds Evelynn M. Hammonds, who ended her service of five years as dean at the beginning of the month.  In the fall, Dean Smith will launch a search for the new College dean. He will convene an advisory committee of faculty and will be consulting broadly with faculty, students, staff and alumni.

Read the official announcement of Pfister’s appointment here. The Harvard Crimson, in its coverage, reported that Pfister, who “chaired a committee that reviewed the Administrative Board from 2008-2010, will serve as interim Dean of the College as it begins to explore a proposal to give students a role in adjudicating some disciplinary cases….”



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