Campus & Community

Altshuler to step down as dean of Graduate School of Design

6 min read

Will return to teaching and research after sabbatical

Altshuler (Staff file photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

Alan A. Altshuler announced today (Oct. 23) that he will step down as dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD). Altshuler was appointed acting dean of the School in July 2004 and assumed the deanship in February 2005. During Altshuler’s tenure, the School substantially increased junior faculty salaries and financial aid for master’s students, doubled the number of senior women faculty, and significantly improved the School’s finances.

“Alan has been a loyal and dedicated citizen of the University, responding to the University’s call whenever it has come,” said interim President Derek Bok. “He has served with great distinction as founding director of the Kennedy School’s Taubman Center and Rappaport Institute, as academic dean of the Kennedy School, and now as dean of the Graduate School of Design. The University owes Professor Altshuler an immense debt of gratitude for his service.”

Altshuler will serve as dean until the end of the current academic year or somewhat longer depending on when his successor can take up his or her duties. He plans to return to the faculty to teach and conduct research after a year’s sabbatical.

Altshuler expressed his pride in what the School has accomplished and thanked the faculty, staff, and students who have worked so diligently during his tenure on behalf of the School. In a letter to the community, he wrote, “The GSD is a marvelous place of creativity, learning, dedication to our common missions, and warm personal relationships. Not surprisingly, therefore, I have found serving as your dean a source of immense pleasure and fulfillment.

“At every step I have been building on the accomplishments of my predecessors, with superlative contributions from members of the GSD faculty and staff, inspired by the dazzling talent and commitment of our students,” continued Altshuler. “I found a School that was best in the land, quite likely the world, and hopefully I shall leave it even better, but the processes of renewal and improvement are continuous, and they are the work of this community as a whole.”

To address the heavy debt burden faced by most GSD students, Altshuler worked to raise financial aid at the School. This year, the average grant for master’s students went up by 18 percent over the previous year. Altogether, the average grant has increased by 53 percent over the last three years.

In addition, Altshuler has also sought to address the needs of junior faculty who struggle with the high cost of living in the Boston area. During his tenure as dean, junior faculty salaries have risen 15 percent in real terms.

Altshuler was able to invest in these new priorities in part through skillful management of the School’s finances. Building on the surplus achieved in the year before he assumed the deanship, Altshuler delivered rising surpluses in each of the following years of his deanship. He also restructured the School’s development office, which has already borne fruit in the form of increased annual giving.

A member of the Faculties of Design and Government since 1988, Altshuler has written extensively on urban and intergovernmental politics, land use planning and regulation, public investment decision-making, transportation, and the world automobile industry. He is the author, most recently, of “Mega-Projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investments” (with David Luberoff), which was designated “best book of the year” in 2004 by the Urban Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. Among Altshuler’s other books are “The City Planning Process: A Political Analysis”; “The Urban Transportation System: Politics and Policy Innovation” (with James P. Womack and John R. Pucher); “Regulation for Revenue: The Political Economy of Land Development Exactions” (with Jose Gomez-Ibanez); and “The Future of the Automobile” (with Daniel Roos and others).

Altshuler teaches courses on urban politics and land use policy to students in the Kennedy School and the Graduate School of Design; he has also co-taught studio courses at GSD, in which aspiring architects, landscape architects, and planners receive their professional training.

Before coming to Harvard, he served as dean of New York University’s Graduate School of Public Administration for five years. At Harvard, he founded and served as the first director of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for State and Local Government and of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. In addition, he has been academic dean of the Kennedy School. Altshuler has been a model University citizen as well, serving on the University Physical Planning Committee, the Allston Master Planning Task Force, and as a member of the Allston Client Group.

A dedicated public servant, Altshuler served as chair of the Massachusetts Governor’s Task Force on Transportation and then as director of the Boston Transportation Planning Review. Altshuler was appointed the commonwealth of Massachusetts’ first secretary of transportation by Gov. Francis W. Sargent, serving from 1971 to 1975. He was later chair of the Federal Energy Administration’s Transportation Advisory Committee and of two National Research Council committees, on the Costs and Benefits of the National 55 Mile Per Hour Speed Limit and on Governance and Opportunity in Metropolitan America.

Altshuler attended Cornell as an undergraduate and earned his master’s degree and doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago. He taught at Swarthmore, Cornell, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a junior faculty member before being appointed full professor of political science at MIT in 1969. He taught at MIT until 1983 — with time out, as noted above, for government service — chairing the political science department from 1977 to 1982.

He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration.

Bok, who is serving as interim president, said that he plans to identify candidates for the deanship for consideration by the next president of the University.

In developing a list of dean candidates, Bok intends to consult widely with faculty members, students, staff, alumni, and outside experts. Consistent with Harvard practice in such searches, he has appointed a faculty advisory group to assist him. The group includes the following Design School faculty members: Eve Blau (architecture), Preston Scott Cohen (architecture), Jerold Kayden (urban planning and design ), Gerald McCue (dean emeritus), Toshiko Mori (architecture), Hashim Sarkis (urban planning and design), Daniel Schodek (architecture), and Michael Van Valkenburgh (landscape architecture).