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UPDATED: May 9, 2023, at 1:01 a.m.
Eric Beerbohm, a Government professor and faculty affiliate in the Philosophy Department, will serve as the next director of the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 announced Monday morning.
Beerbohm succeeds the center’s outgoing director, Danielle S. Allen, who announced she would step down after eight years in the role. He will officially assume leadership of the center on July 1.
Beerbohm, who also serves as Quincy House faculty dean, said in a press release that the center’s mission “is as urgent now” as it was when the center was first established in 1986.
“I couldn’t be more excited to work with this vibrant community of students, faculty, and staff across the university as we grapple with the most serious ethical issues of our time,” Beerbohm said. “Some are arrestingly new — like ChatGPT. Others go back to when democracy was a pilot project.”
Beerbohm said in an interview Monday afternoon that it is hard to predict what issues the center will focus on during his tenure, noting that he likely would not have predicted last semester that ChatGPT would become a pressing ethical challenge.
“The fact that these problems are arising at this just arresting pace is striking,” he said.
Beerbohm, however, noted that part of the center’s mandate is to play the role of a clairvoyant when it comes to emerging challenges.
“In some ways, the center — with the whole university community and professional schools, in particular — is well positioned to anticipate the problems before they're right in our face as a society,” he said. “That’s part of the center’s work.”
Garber said the center “has been a catalyst for important work in ethics at Harvard and a key part of advancing that work in the world beyond.”
“Eric’s many intellectual achievements in the field of ethics and political thought and his cross-disciplinary engagement both inside and outside the University make him an ideal candidate to direct its work,” Garber said. “I am thrilled that he has agreed to serve as Director.”
Allen, who also serves as a University Professor, was honored with a symposium late last month to celebrate her tenure leading the center. Over her eight years as director, Allen established the Design Studio for Ethics and Civics Pedagogy and the Justice, Health, and Democracy Impact Initiative, a project that allows experts to collaborate with local officials on public policy solutions.
In the press release, Garber thanked Allen for “her tremendous leadership over the past eight years, both in continuing to develop the center’s intellectual vision and building up the community of scholars carrying that vision forward.”
Beerbohm has collaborated with the center for more than a decade, first joining as a faculty fellow from 2009 to 2010. He served as the director of graduate fellowships from 2010 to 2017 and as the founding director of the center’s undergraduate fellowship program.
In the interview, Beerbohm said he is “most excited” about increasing the center’s efforts to engage undergraduates at Harvard.
“The center has already really amped up its attempts to reach out to undergraduates, but I think that we can go even further,” he said.
Beerbohm said he hopes to use his familiarity with Harvard’s undergraduate housing system as a Quincy House faculty dean to further engage students in the study of ethics.
“I think it creates a lot of opportunities for the Safra Center to collaborate with houses, with student groups, and to see — as we continue to build it out — will they come?” he said.
Beerbohm is also in the middle of his second term as the chair of the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies. It is unclear if he will be able to remain in the role long-term while simultaneously serving as the center’s director.
Allen said in the press release that Beerbohm “embodies the commitment of the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics to putting work on core human values at the center of teaching, learning, and public policy.”
“He’s helped to build some of the Center’s most important programs — both our graduate and undergraduate fellowship programs — and invariably leads with warmth, collegiality, and integrity,” she added. “I am excited to see where he will take the Center next.”
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