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From the sciences to the humanities, Harvard professors are praising Hopi E. Hoekstra, who was announced Monday as the University’s next dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Hoekstra, a professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular and Cellular Biology, will take office on Aug. 1, succeeding University President-elect Claudine Gay, who is vacating the FAS deanship on July 1. Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Emma Dench will serve as interim FAS dean for the month of July.
William C. Kirby, a historian and former FAS Dean, praised Hoekstra’s selection in emailed statements, calling her a “leading citizen of FAS.”
“In the long history of the FAS deanship I cannot think of anyone better prepared for this complex role in terms of scholarship, leadership, and a deep devotion to our students,” Kirby wrote.
Government professor Danielle S. Allen, who holds Harvard’s highest faculty rank as a University professor, also celebrated Hoekstra’s appointment, writing in an email that it was “terrific and very exciting.”
“She has a great and fulsome understanding of both the research and the teaching enterprise, as well as a wonderfully collegial manner,” Allen wrote.
Classics Department Chair David F. Elmer ’98 also praised President-elect Gay’s successor, calling Hoekstra “an outstanding choice” in an email.
Many of Hoekstra’s colleagues in the OEB and MCB departments praised the strength of her scholarship.
OEB professor Andrew A. Biewener said that he had “really high expectations” for Hoekstra when as OEB chair in 2007, he helped recruit her to Harvard amid competing offers from Princeton, Stanford, and the University of California, Berkeley.
“Those of us in my department certainly knew that she was not only an outstanding scientist, but an excellent colleague,” he said. “She has all the qualities, I think, to work very well in terms of administrative leadership and leading the FAS forward.”
Nicholas Bellono, an associate professor in the MCB department, said that Hoekstra “really is the total package of a scholar.”
“Her research record is amazing,” he said. “It translates so well to teaching and to her service in the University, where her work is accessible.”
Some faculty in the sciences — a number of whom had previously expressed hopes for one from their ranks to succeed Gay — said that they were glad that one of their colleagues will be the next FAS dean.
“Somebody who’s really practicing all of this stuff now will oversee this, which means they’ll bring in all that current excitement and the current knowledge,” MCB professor Venkatesh N. Murthy said.
OEB professor James Hanken — who worked with Hoekstra at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology — said having a scientist helm the FAS now is “a relief personally,” but added that faculty in other disciplines “don’t have anything to worry about.”
“She respects academic, intellectual breadth,” Hanken said.
Unlike her predecessor — Gay was dean of Social Science before becoming FAS dean in 2018 — Hoekstra does not have the same level of administrative experience, having never served as a department chair or headed a center.
Murthy noted that Hoekstra’s appointment is “kind of unusual for somebody who hasn’t been chair or director,” but added that her extensive experience on committees and in scientific societies “gives me confidence that she would be fine and she would very quickly catch up with all the administrative stuff.”
Michael J. Hopkins, who chairs the Mathematics Department and previously worked with Hoekstra on an oversight committee, said that his experience with her leadership there meant he “didn’t have any reservations” about his “enthusiasm” at the choice. Her work on the committee, Hopkins said, left him “just in awe, in a way.”
“I think she’ll be terrific,” he said. “I think the perspective she brings to it is going to be really valuable to the University.”
Mahzarin R. Banaji, a Psychology professor who served under Hoekstra on the tenure track review committee she chaired, wrote in an email that Hoekstra “will set the highest standards for both research and teaching and lead the FAS to newer heights.”
“The world needs the work of institutions like ours more than ever, as we stand on the precipice of several unprecedented crises. What a great moment in which to have Hopi Hoekstra’s vision as our guide,” she wrote.
—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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