Jeremy R. Knowles, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) from 1991 to 2002, has agreed to serve as interim dean of the Faculty beginning July 1, the University announced Monday (May 22). Named by incoming interim President Derek Bok, Knowles will serve until the selection of a permanent dean by the next president of Harvard.
Knowles will succeed William C. Kirby, who has served as dean of the FAS since July 1, 2002.
Amory Houghton Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, Knowles rejoined the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology in 2002, after 11 years in University Hall. He has also been deeply involved in the planning for Allston over the past three years, as one of the three-person Allston Client Group.
“We are indeed fortunate that Jeremy Knowles has agreed to return to University Hall four years after completing more than a decade of distinguished service,” said Bok. “A term as interim dean does not allow the luxury of learning on the job, and no other individual rivals Jeremy in his experience of FAS affairs or his capacity to begin immediately to address important administrative issues while maintaining forward motion on a variety of fronts. The challenges involved in assuring an effective and responsive administration, bringing the curriculum review to a successful conclusion, and moving ahead with plans for Allston, among others, require a dean with proven knowledge, judgment, and administrative skill. Jeremy has amply demonstrated these qualities through his years of service in University Hall.
“For me personally, it will be a distinct pleasure to work closely with someone who has been a good friend and colleague for more than 30 years,” continued Bok. “We are all in his debt for his willingness once again to accept the challenge of leading the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.”
“This is certainly not an outcome that I ever expected,” Knowles said. “But I care deeply about the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Harvard, and the opportunity to work with President Bok is compelling.
“The four years since I stepped down from the deanship have been a very active period for the FAS and for the University, and the challenges and opportunities facing us today are quite different from those I left behind in 2002,” continued Knowles. “In particular, under Dean Kirby, the Faculty has made important progress in enhancing the academic, the nonacademic, and the international aspects of the undergraduate experience, and we must press forward with these efforts. Furthermore, as research becomes ever more interdisciplinary and plans for Allston begin to take shape, we must recognize, following President Summers, the importance of collaboration with other parts of the University. I look forward to the support and wise counsel of my faculty colleagues, and of one of Harvard’s great presidents, Derek Bok, during the coming year.”
The appointment of Knowles follows an intensive search process involving broad consultation with faculty, students, and staff. Bok was directly aided in the search by an advisory committee of 10 faculty members, drawn from departments spanning the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, which has met weekly since mid-April.
Under Knowles, the Barker Center opened in 1997 and Boylston Hall was renovated, drawing together 17 departments and other units of the humanities. Memorial Hall was restored and reshaped, and the massive renovation of Widener Library was begun. In 1999, Knowles launched a series of ambitious initiatives in the sciences, including the Bauer Center for Genomics Research, the Center for Imaging and Mesoscale Structures (now the Center for Nanoscale Systems), and the Center for Brain Science. In the social sciences, he led the planning effort for the Knafel Center for Government and International Studies, the two major buildings of which opened last fall.
Knowles also launched an effort to increase the size of the FAS faculty while keeping the number of undergraduates constant, in order both to improve opportunities for student-faculty engagement and to strengthen scholarship in emerging fields. The number of senior faculty grew from 394 to 442 during Knowles’ tenure, and the number of senior women more than doubled, from 38 to 78. Kirby has continued impressively to expand and diversify the faculty, and those numbers now stand at 483 and 90, respectively.
Born in England, Knowles was educated at Magdalen College School, Oxford. After serving as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force, he graduated from Balliol College, Oxford, 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 had held a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, and had been 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’ 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 doctoral 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 is 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.