Graduate School of Design Dean Will Take ‘Partial Step Back’ from Duties to Focus on Cancer Treatment

School of Design
Michael Gritzbach

Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

Harvard Graduate School of Design Dean Sarah M. Whiting will take a partial step back from her position after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she announced in an email to the school’s affiliates.

Whiting, who is also professor of architecture at the Design School, has served as dean since July 2019.

“As difficult as it will be, especially at this critical juncture in the school’s history, I will need to follow the advice of my physician team (as well as of Harvard’s President and Provost) and do my best to turn my energy toward my recovery,” Whiting wrote in her Monday email.

In the email, she also announced that professors Rahul J. Mehrotra and Niall Kirkwood will assume some responsibilities for day-to-day operations at the school.

Mehrotra, she wrote, will represent her in working with the School of Design’s senior leadership at the University. Mehrotra was recently appointed chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design as well as being appointed a Professor of Housing and Urbanization at the Design School, and is due to assume both positions in July.


Whiting wrote thay Kirkwood will continue his duties as the School of Design’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, including overseeing faculty searches, reviews, and policies. In addition to serving as associate dean, Kirkwood is also Professor of Landscape Architecture and Technology at the Design School, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1992.

Though Whiting noted the coronavirus pandemic has “deeply affected” the School of Design and its affiliates, she wrote she has “complete and total confidence” in the School of Design’s ability to navigate the current situation.

“Your collective willingness to jump into the fray, lend a hand, and help bring our school through the current moment—your generosity and your grit—have been endlessly inspiring to me personally,” she wrote.

—Staff writer Elizabeth H. Gellert can be reached at