A Sad Goodbye to Dean Smith

In an email to Harvard affiliates on March 19, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith announced his decision to step down from his post. Smith’s decision came as University President Drew G. Faust’s tenure enters its final two months, following a decades-old pattern of FAS deans stepping down shortly after University presidents do.

Smith’s departure follows a decade of financial and economic change. In Smith’s second year in office, the 2008 financial crisis necessitated deep FAS budget cuts. During this time, he froze faculty salaries, reduced staff searches, and put a pause on the construction of the new School of Engineering and Applied Sciences campus in Allston. Indeed, he was instrumental in handling a number of important fiscal decisions. During his tenure, FAS passed its $2.5 billion fundraising target in Oct. 2016, four houses underwent renovation, and financial aid programs grew. In an era when the University has been struggling with poor returns on its endowment, Smith’s financial and managerial decisions were crucial for the school’s continued success.

As we look back at Smith’s tenure, we are pleased with his performance, and it is clear that his work has had a tangible impact on campus. Yet, with two other deans—Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 and Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris—leaving their positions this summer, we continue to be concerned about the ramifications of losing yet another senior member of the FAS leadership in short succession.

For the foreseeable future, Harvard faces even more House renewals and the construction of a new campus with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’s move to Allston. Financial leadership is crucial at this juncture, and we hope that Smith’s replacement is just as, if not more, competent at managing the debt and donations that come with such extensive changes to the physical landscape of the University.

Smith’s accomplishments as the Dean of FAS are not strictly financial. His dedication to increasing faculty diversity has proven valuable to the larger Harvard community. Indeed, he has overseen FAS during a period of great growth with respect to diversity. Of those on a tenure-track, 63 percent are now women—the highest percentage anywhere in the University. At the same time, in FAS’s science division, 46 percent of tenure-track faculty are now women—a relatively figure for the sciences. We hope Smith’s successor values diversity among the faculty as much as his predecessor and works to continue the trend that Smith started.


During this transitional time for Harvard, we call on Smith, incoming University President Lawrence S. Bacow, and all other administrators to ensure that the transition period is quick and successful. Furthermore, we hope that the new dean of FAS is given the support required to continue the legacy of success left by Smith.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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