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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
Dean of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Francis J. Doyle III reflected on his tenure and his transition to Brown University amid the search for his successor in an interview Wednesday.
Doyle, who was appointed SEAS dean in 2015, is set to step down on June 30 and assume the position of provost at Brown. Harvard President-elect Claudine Gay officially kicked off the search for Doyle’s successor early last month by announcing a 13-member faculty advisory committee for the search in a schoolwide email.
Doyle said in the interview that his departure from SEAS was “a very difficult decision.”
“The hardest part was leaving the team that I had been lucky enough to build and to collaborate with here at SEAS across our staff, across our faculty, our student body,” he said.
Doyle said he hopes his experiences managing the bustling SEAS and facilitating its expansion into Allston will translate to success in leading Brown’s plans to grow its campus and research programs.
“The research agenda at Brown is one that’s growing and they have a very aggressive plan to grow that,” Doyle said. “There are opportunities for Brown to grow their footprint within Greater Providence.”
Though the ongoing search for Doyle’s successor as SEAS dean has solicited feedback from affiliates of the school, Doyle said he is not involved in the process.
Following his departure, Doyle will hold professor emeritus status at SEAS. He said he has “a keen interest” in the continued success of the school.
Doyle said he expects the growth at SEAS to translate into further success for the school.
“I can’t help but, as an engineer, sort of think about things in terms of slopes and velocities,” he said. “So, if we think of a trajectory that SEAS is on, I believe there’s a very positive slope for many years to come.”
“I’m gonna watch with envy, I’m sure, with a lot of excitement from Providence,” Doyle added. “I’ll be an absolute cheerleader for the exciting things that are going to be happening in Allston.”
Doyle also discussed the following topics:
SEAS is currently in the fourth year of its five-year Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Strategic Plan. Doyle praised the plan, adding he believes there has been “incredible progress” on most of its initiatives.
A climate survey conducted last year by SEAS showed racial and gender disparities within the school, with 21 percent of respondents reporting experiences of discrimination or harassment. Doyle said the administration is using the findings of the survey to develop the next phase of the plan.
“We're trying to incorporate the learnings that have come out of that survey, incorporate the ideas that lead back to responses we’re hearing in the listening tour, as we go around the community and use that to refresh, revise, and now forecast what the next five-year plan would look like,” Doyle said.
“It’ll be for my successor with the incredible team that we’ve assembled to continue to do that,” Doyle added.
Doyle highlighted additional SEAS initiatives to bolster diversity in the school, including the school’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Fellows program, its April BRIDGE Week — which stands for Building Relationships, Increasing Diversity, and Growing Engineers — and its collaborations with historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions, such as its partnership with Navajo Technical University.
“We really, I think, bring a long tradition of partnering that can become an exemplar,” Doyle said. “Not only can we sustain and improve those relationships, but they may inspire us as to other kinds of partnerships that Harvard can undertake.”
Approximately half of SEAS faculty and staff moved to the Science and Engineering Complex in early 2021 after its roughly five-year construction, which was prolonged by the Covid-19 pandemic. Doyle said his successor will have new opportunities to expand SEAS’ outreach in Allston.
“A big part of our presence in Allston, I believe, is to be effective ambassadors for Harvard, to the community that we are joining with, that we’re embedded in over there,” Doyle said.
“You’ve got Athletics, you’ve got the Business School — it’s been close to a century on both of them that they’ve been over there,” he added. “We’re the next wave and so we have always embraced the opportunity to be good neighbors with the Allston community.”
A new chapter of expansion for SEAS is set to take place with the establishment of the Enterprise Research Campus in Allston, which will host a hotel, conference center, laboratory and office space, and residential housing. The first phase of the construction of the complex was unanimously approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s board of directors in July 2022.
“I think the final piece in many ways of the exciting puzzle that’s coming together is going to be the Enterprise Research Campus,” Doyle said. “The sky’s the limit on what can happen when you bring tech companies, startups, outposts of big organizations in adjacent to our labs and our classrooms.”
—Staff writer Edona Cosovic can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Mert Geyiktepe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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