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John Harvard's Journal

News in Brief

January-February 2023

Photo of Sara N. Bleich, responsible for implementing recommendations from Harvard slavery report

Sara N. Bleich

Photograph by Stephanie Mitchell/HPAC


Sara N. Bleich

Photograph by Stephanie Mitchell/HPAC

Acting on the Slavery Report

Two recent appointments advance actions recommended by the report on the University and the legacy of slavery (see “Harvard’s Ties to Slavery,” July-August 2022, page 22). Professor of public health policy Sara N. Bleich is the inaugural vice provost for special projects. She will oversee implementation efforts across Harvard, advised by a six-person committee chaired by 300th Anniversary University Professor Martha Minow. Provost Alan M. Garber said Bleich’s position rep- resents “a critical next step in ensuring the University and schools make needed progress in addressing Harvard’s ties to slavery and remedying the many aspects of its persistent aftermath.” The news announcement said Bleich will also “engage with students, staff, researchers, alumni, descendants, and the public about Harvard’s progress and serve as a spokesperson on reparative efforts.”

The April report recommended a remembrance program that would “endeavor to identify the direct descendants of enslaved indi- viduals who labored on Harvard’s campus and of those who were enslaved by Harvard leadership, faculty, or staff.” Minow’s committee announced that Richard Cellini will lead that work. He helped to iden- tify and trace the direct descendants of 314 enslaved people sold in 1838 to fund Georgetown University. His Harvard tasks focus on en- abling direct descendants to “recover their histories, tell their stories, and pursue empowering knowledge.”

Rankled by Rankings

On november 16, Yale Law School—perennially ranked the top law school by U.S. News & World Report—announced that it would no longer participate in the exercise. Hours later, Dean John Manning announced that Harvard Law would withdraw from the rankings, too, for reasons echoing Yale’s.

He wrote that “it has become impossible to reconcile our principles and commitments with the methodology and incentives” reflected in the rankings. Manning cited the magazine’s metric for students’ debt upon graduation, which can be reduced by offering aid—or by admitting more applicants with the means to avoid borrowing. Similarly, he noted, the weighting of students’ test scores and grades provides an incentive for merit, rather than need-based, aid. (Students who can afford preparation courses may be able to boost their test scores.) Finally, he wrote, the methodology undermines efforts to support public interest careers through graduate loan-forgiveness programs. So HLS opted out. Many other law schools quickly followed suit. (For criticisms of college ratings, see “Aiming for Excellence,” July-August 2022, page 55. )

Rhodes Roster

Six of 32 American Rhodes Scholars, who will study at the University of Oxford next autumn, are College seniors: Henry A. Cerbone, of Albright, West Virginia (computer science); Tessa K.J. Haining, Newton, Massachusetts (chemistry and comparative literature); Amisha Kambath, San Ramon, California (social studies); Lauren Kim, Chicago (chemistry and engineering science); Isaac A. Robinson, Milton, Massachusetts (mathematics and computer science); and Brian H. Wee, Erie, Colorado (chemical and physical biology and government).

Changes at the Top

Two deans and a vice president will relinquish their posts at the end of the academic year. On October 27, Harvard Divinity School dean David N. Hempton announced that he would conclude his service, which began in July 2012, next June and resume writing and teaching (see harvardmag.com/hempton-step-down-22). President Bacow lauded his counsel and “moments of wisdom [that] have made him indispensable to his fellow deans—and to me.”

School of Public Health dean Michelle Williams will complete seven years of service, take a sabbatical, and then return to research and teaching. Bacow noted that under her leadership during the pandemic, the school’s faculty “proved themselves to be an invaluable resource to governments and the public at large” (see harvardmag.com/williams-step-down-22).

Vice president for finance Thomas J. Hollister, Harvard’s chief financial officer since 2015, will also step down. He led efforts to restructure the University’s debt, reducing costs enormously; prepared the institution for a recession, and thus had Harvard ready for the initial financial shocks during the pandemic; and has helped to negotiate new policies on investment risk, which should enhance endowment returns. Bacow praised him as a “phenomenal mentor, a thoughtful adviser, and an extremely sophisticated financial strategist.” (Read more at harvardmag.com/hollister-step-down-22.)

National Academy Honorands

Newly elected National Academy of Medicine members include: Marcella Alsan, professor of public policy (Kennedy School); Craig Blackstone, professor of neurology (Medical School); Wafaie Fawzi, Saltonstall professor of population sciences and professor of nutrition, epidemiology, and global health (School of Public Health); Michael McWilliams, Alpert Foundation professor of health care policy and professor of medicine (HMS); Vikram Patel, Pershing Square professor of global health (HMS and SPH); Kornelia Polyak, professor of medicine (HMS); and John Quackenbush, Walcott professor of computational biology and informatics (SPH).

Boosting Bioengineering

Hansjörg Wyss, M.B.A. ’65, has made a $350-million gift to support the research conducted by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering—his fourth since the start-up funding in 2008. The institute pursues technologies that emulate natural systems, and applies them to human health care and the environment. Institute core and associate faculty members, staff scientists and engineers, and intellectual property and licensing experts have filed for nearly 4,000 patents, executed 100-plus commercial licensing agreements, and participated in or founded 50 startup enterprises. They have also published more than 2,700 scientific articles. The institute is scheduled to move into a new 107,000-square-foot research facility this spring. Further details are available at harvardmag.com/hansjorg-gift-22.

Lab Notes

Alongside the Wyss expansion, the Blavatnik Harvard Life Lab Longwood opened in October, providing 10,000 square feet of space designed to accommodate up to a dozen early-stage biotechnology and life-sciences startups founded by students, alumni, postdocs, and faculty members—all aimed at accelerating translation of basic discoveries into medical use.…In Watertown, Landmark Bio, a Harvard-led collaborative cell- and gene-therapy manufacturing facility serving enterprises across Greater Boston, opened its 44,000-square-foot facility the same week; see background stories at harvardmag.com/landmark-bio-21.

Honor Roll

Harvard-affiliated recipients of MacArthur Fellowships include Melanie Wood, professor of mathematics; Danna Freedman ’03, Keyes professor of chemistry at MIT; and Emily Wang ’97, professor of medicine and public health at Yale. Their research is described at harvardmag.com/genius-grants-22.…Timothy Springer, Latham Family professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology, shared the 2022 Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for work on proteins that connect cells with one another and their environment, helping explain how immune cells interact with their targets—bearing on ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and blood-clotting disorders.…Princeton historian Imani Perry, J.D.-Ph.D. ’00, won the nonfiction National Book Award for South to America. Poet John Keene ’87 was honored for Punks: New & Selected Poems. Translator Damion Searls ’92 was a finalist for A New Name: Septology VI-VII, a novel by Norwegian writer Jon Fosse. Read more at harvardmag.com/national-book-finalists-22.

Nobel Ties

Ben S. Bernanke ’75, former chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, shared the 2022 Nobel Prize in economics with two other scholars, for research that “significantly improved our understanding of the role of banks in the economy, particularly during financial crises.” .…The Nobel Prize in chemistry was conferred on Carolyn R. Bertozzi ’88, now at Stanford; repeat winner K. Barry Sharpless, of Scripps Research, a 1969 Harvard postdoc under Konrad E. Bloch (a 1964 Nobel honorand); and Morten Meldal—all for work in functional and “click” chemistry. See harvardmag.com/bernanke-nobel-22.

Princeton “Disassociates”

Princeton trustees voted in September to “disassociate” from 90 companies active in thermal coal or tar sands production—among the most carbon-emissions-intensive fossil fuels. Its endowment investments will also exclude all holdings in publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The trustees will also consider refusing gifts or research grants from companies considered to have engaged in climate change disinformation.

Alumni Newsmakers

Benjamin E. Sasse ’94, Republican U.S. Senator from Nebraska, has been appointed president of the University of Florida.…Attorney General Merrick B. Garland ’74, J.D. ’77, has appointed Jack Smith, J.D. ’94, special counsel to oversee the criminal investigations into former President Donald J. Trump’s role in the January 6, 2021, attack on Congress and the relocation of federal documents to his Palm Beach estate.

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