Campus & Community

Jeremy R. Knowles, Dean at Harvard, to Return to the Faculty

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Jeremy R. Knowles, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 1991, has announced his plans to end his service as Dean and to return to the Faculty at the end of this academic year.

A distinguished chemist who joined the Harvard faculty from Oxford University in 1974, Knowles has led the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) during a period marked by major initiatives in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, and by progress in augmenting student financial aid, and in enhancing the academic, physical, and financial resources of the FAS.

“I am truly grateful for the privilege of having served the most creative and committed faculty anywhere,” Knowles said in a letter to the FAS. He expressed his thanks “for the pleasure of real friendship with colleagues and with staff, students, and alumni/ae, and for the knowledge that [President Lawrence Summers] – with my successor in University Hall – will in the years ahead shape an exciting future for the Faculty, and for Harvard.

“As we enter the era of President Summers’ leadership, and even as I find so many of my hopes for the Faculty to be closely consonant with his,” Knowles added, “I shall return to a somewhat less pressured life, and fulfill my long-held view that we should overlap by just a year.”

Said Summers: “For more than a decade, Jeremy Knowles has led our Faculty of Arts and Sciences with a constant devotion to the highest standards of academic quality and the highest ideals of the university. By virtually any measure – its faculty and students, its array of academic programs, its resources for learning, and others – the FAS is even stronger now than before.

“For Harvard, Jeremy has been an extraordinarily incisive, energetic, and effective leader at the heart of our academic enterprise,” Summers continued. “For me personally, he has been a wise and generous freshman adviser. I have come greatly to value his counsel, his friendship, and his strong sense of academic values, and I hope to benefit further from all of those in the months and years to come.”

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Knowles took office as Dean of the FAS in July 1991, as Neil L. Rudenstine assumed the Harvard presidency. During Knowles’s eleven years as Dean, the FAS has undertaken major initiatives aimed at strengthening the sense of academic community within each of its three principal academic domains.

The opening of the Barker Center in 1997, together with the ensuing renovation of Boylston Hall, marked a watershed for the humanities at Harvard. Seventeen departments and other units within the humanities have been drawn together, providing new opportunities for scholarly collaboration and faculty-student interaction.

In 1999, Knowles launched a series of ambitious initiatives in the sciences, designed to foster cross-disciplinary and collaborative work in emerging scientific fields. The Center for Genomics Research and the Center for Imaging and Mesoscale Structures are both established and growing, and initiatives in systems neuroscience and in computation and society are taking shape.

In the social sciences, the long-planned Center for Government and International Studies will unite the Government Department with many of Harvard’s international and regional studies centers. This project, the construction of which awaits final approval from the City of Cambridge, will create a new community of scholars and students in the social sciences.

In recent years, Knowles has made it a priority to grow the FAS faculty while keeping the number of undergraduates in the College at its current level, both to improve Harvard’s faculty:student ratio in heavily subscribed fields and to strengthen scholarship in emerging areas of study. Since 1991 the FAS senior faculty has grown in number from 395 to 442, and the number of senior women in the FAS has more than doubled, from 38 to 78.

On the curricular front, Knowles re-established the Educational Policy Committee in 1992, a committee that has been responsible for the systematic review and improvement of each of the undergraduate concentrations. More recently, with Dean of Undergraduate Education Susan Pedersen, he has worked to revitalize and expand the Freshman Seminar Program as part of a larger effort to increase the opportunities for undergraduates to enjoy instruction in small groups. A review of the Core Curriculum in 1997 led to a fundamental reshaping of the Core’s Quantitative Reasoning section. In addition, the FAS has incorporated new information technologies into the teaching and learning process in ways that have dramatically enriched the student experience.

Student financial aid has risen steadily during the Knowles years. Harvard’s annual investment in scholarship aid for undergraduates has grown from $26 million in 1991 to $63 million today, reflecting the College’s sustained commitment to need-blind admissions and full need-based aid. Grant aid to graduate students has also increased. In the past three years alone, the annual budget for such aid has risen by $10 million, including major boosts in fellowships for doctoral students in the humanities, social sciences, and, most recently, the sciences.

Having inherited an annual structural deficit of more than $12 million a year in 1991, Knowles worked successfully to restore budgetary equilibrium to the Faculty, without resorting to major programmatic cuts. He also led the FAS portion of the $2.6 billion University Campaign, which yielded $1.2 billion in gifts and pledges to the FAS by its conclusion in December 1999.

A strengthened financial position has enabled the FAS to invest not only in faculty and students, but also in the health of its physical plant. Memorial Hall has undergone an historic restoration, finally gaining back its tower more than forty years after it was destroyed by fire. University Hall has been restored, and the major renovation of another Harvard landmark, Widener Library, is in progress. All eleven freshman dormitories have been completely renovated, and Harvard’s athletics complex has blossomed with the addition of the Murr Center, the Lavietes Pavilion, the Beren Tennis Center, and Jordan Field. Looking forward, Knowles has set in motion a comprehensive planning effort for the future of the “North Precinct,” which is home to twelve FAS departments, most of them in the sciences.

As Dean, Knowles has been responsible for the 10,000 students in Harvard College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, some 700 members of the faculty, and the 240 residential, library, laboratory, office and classroom buildings that comprise the FAS. The annual budget of the Faculty is about $750 million.

“Jeremy once suggested, with characteristically self-effacing wit, that ‘Deans shouldn’t make an imprint, any more than gardeners should trample on flower beds,’” Summers observed. “But our Faculty of Arts and Sciences has flowered during the past decade, in ways that bear the lasting imprint of a remarkably nimble and dedicated dean. The seeds he has planted, working with so many members of our community, will help sustain Harvard for generations. For that and more, we owe him our deepest thanks.”

Summers added that “identifying a successor to Dean Knowles will obviously be a matter of high priority. I will want to consult carefully as the process unfolds, and will be in further touch about this important search in the time ahead.”

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Born in England in 1935, Knowles was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford. After serving as a Pilot Officer in the Royal Air Force, he graduated from Balliol College, receiving his B.A. in 1959 and his D.Phil. in 1961. Before coming to Harvard, he was Fellow and Tutor of Wadham College, Oxford. He held a post-doctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, and was a visiting professor at Yale, and Sloan visiting professor at Harvard. He joined the Harvard faculty as Professor of Chemistry in 1974, and was named Amory Houghton Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1979.

Knowles’s research has been on the boundary of chemistry and biochemistry, and has concerned the rate and specificity of enzyme catalysis and the evolution of protein function. He is the author of more than 250 research papers, and has advised more than 50 Ph.D. recipients at Oxford and at Harvard. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, and a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences. He also serves as a trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Among his awards are the Charmian Medal, the Bader Award, the Repligen Award, the Prelog Medal, the Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry, and the Nakanishi Prize. He was awarded the Davy Medal of the Royal Society, and is an Honorary Fellow of Balliol College and of Wadham College, Oxford. He holds honorary degrees from the University of Edinburgh and the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zürich. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 1993.