Harvard Divinity Dean Hempton to Step Down

Plans to depart at end of academic year

Divinity School dean David N. Hempton
Divinity School dean David N. Hempton
Photograph by Justin Knight/Harvard News Office
David Hempton
David Hempton
Photograph by Justin Knight/Harvard News Office

Harvard Divinity School dean David N. Hempton, who is O’Brian professor of divinity and McDonald Family professor of Evangelical theological studies, announced today that he will step down at the end of this academic year. He was appointed by President Drew Gilpin Faust in March 2012, and assumed his decanal responsibilities that July 1.

In his announcement to the community, Hempton wrote:

When I agreed take up this position in 2012, I never expected to serve so long or to leave it with so many happy memories. Thanks to everyone in this very special community—faculty, staff, students, alumni, and supporters—this past decade has been the most satisfying and fulfilling period of my academic career. I am grateful to all of you for your trust and support through some difficult times in the history of our country and the wider world.  

As I look back, there have been countless highlights—from our bicentennial celebrations in 2017 to the opening of Swartz Hall in 2021—but perhaps the most satisfying part of our work together has been the thousands of challenging classes and hundreds of graduating students who have gone out to illuminate, engage, and serve our world in multiple capacities. Nothing brings greater pleasure than knowing that we have all used our gifts and talents to help one another make a difference in the world.

I feel privileged to have served under, and with, a remarkable group of leaders and teachers at HDS and wider Harvard. Over these years, I have grown to appreciate more W. B. Yeats’s tribute that “my glory has been to have such friends,” and friends you surely will remain in the years ahead.

He plans to resume teaching and writing.

President Lawrence S. Bacow wrote of the dean:

A year ago next week, I joined David at Swartz Hall on a perfect fall day for a long-anticipated ribbon cutting. As we moved together through newly renovated spaces, I was struck by how much the building reminded me of David himself: inviting and open, authentic and dignified, dynamic and engaging. Throughout a decade of leadership, he has realized those same qualities more fully across the Divinity School—in the faculty and students you attract, in the research and scholarship you pursue, and in the initiatives and programs you launch. With inspiring conviction, he has expanded and elevated ambitions and perspectives, ever faithful to the ideal of a just world, a world at peace.

This talent is not to your sole benefit. At Academic Council, David is often the last to speak on an issue, and, when he does, everyone listens attentively because he is as gifted a teacher among his peers as he is in any classroom. With careful counsel, he guides others to see things differently, to consider new ways of approaching challenges and seeking resolution. These moments of wisdom have made him indispensable to his fellow deans—and to me. Fortunately, there is some road left to run with him, and we will cherish every step.

He said that he and Provost Alan Garber will initiate a search for a successor dean, and welcomed comments about the school’s opportunities and challenges, and the deanship, at divinitysearch@harvard.edu.

A Harvard Gazette story on the announcement and the dean’s service appears here.

Read more articles by John S. Rosenberg

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