Campus & Community

Michael D. Smith named next dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

7 min read

Michael D. Smith, a distinguished computer scientist, admired teacher, and skilled administrative leader, will become the new Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences this July, President-elect Drew G. Faust announced today.

The Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, Smith has served as Associate Dean for Computer Science and Engineering during a transformational time for Harvard’s new School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Smith is known for his innovative research on computing systems, particularly on issues involving a detailed knowledge of both the hardware and software in these sophisticated systems. He is also a leading figure in a range of interdisciplinary activities that explore the interplay of technology with other fields, from the life sciences to economics to philosophy to law.

A member of the Harvard faculty since 1992, with strong interests in undergraduate education and student life, Smith teaches CS 50, the highly rated introductory course on computer science, and is a past winner of the Phi Beta Kappa teaching prize. He also chairs the FAS standing committee on athletic sports and headed the steering committee for Harvard’s most recent NCAA recertification review.

“Mike Smith is an excellent teacher, a distinguished computer scientist, and a talented leader known to his colleagues as someone who galvanizes others in pursuit of common goals,” said Faust. “He has emerged as one of his generation’s most influential experts on computer architecture, while working creatively to connect technology with a broad array of other fields. His deep concern for undergraduates is evident both within and beyond the classroom, from his challenging introductory course on computer science to his chairmanship of the faculty committee on athletics. He is also an energetic administrative leader with an engaging curiosity and an open, collaborative approach to setting priorities and moving things forward. His commitment to academic values and to the highest standards of intellectual inquiry, together with his intuitive understanding of organizations, will make him an outstanding dean.”

“I am deeply honored to have been asked and will be privileged to serve as dean of our extraordinary faculty and staff and our unequaled student body,” Smith said. “The FAS is a great institution at the heart of a great university. Its diversity, strength, and intellectual energy are qualities that I cherish and will work tirelessly to cultivate. This is a moment of rare opportunity, as we renew our curriculum, explore new connections across fields, and plan for a presence in Allston that reflects and strengthens our academic mission. I am excited to begin working in my new role with my colleagues throughout the FAS and the broader University, and especially with President-elect Faust, who clearly recognizes the importance of a vibrant environment for scholarship across the arts and sciences and the offering of an education second to none.”

As Associate Dean for Computer Science and Engineering since July 2005, Smith has been a key figure in charting the future of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and in overseeing the School’s intensified efforts in computer science and related areas. He has also been an active participant in a range of activities that draw together experts in technology with scholars in other disciplines.

Smith is closely involved with the Center for Research on Computation and Society, which brings computer scientists together with economists, psychologists, legal scholars, ethicists, neuroscientists, and others to understand and confront the range of social issues posed by the ever-widening use of computer technology in our daily lives. He serves on the steering committee of the Initiative in Innovative Computing, which aims to advance interdisciplinary research in the sciences through the development of state-of-the-art computing tools. This past year he was co-director of the interfaculty Ph.D. program in Information, Technology, and Management, and he co-chaired a multidisciplinary faculty committee charged with envisioning ways to enhance high-performance computing across all of the FAS.

“I am delighted that Mike Smith will be the next Dean of our Faculty,” said David Pilbeam, the Interim Dean of the FAS. “I believe that he is a perfect person for the position. The Faculty faces many exciting challenges, and the fresh approach Mike will bring is both timely and welcome.”

“Mike Smith has an extraordinary gift for leadership and brings out the best in his students and colleagues,” said Venky Narayanamurti, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “I have come to trust and rely on Mike for his superb academic judgment and organizational skills. He’s an unusually creative, broad-minded, and systematic thinker, and, not least of all, a wonderful human being who is deeply devoted to Harvard. This is a terrific day for the FAS.”

This spring Smith co-taught a new cross-disciplinary course that explored the recurring tensions between personal privacy and computer technology brought about by the interaction of technological advances, public policies, and social and ethical norms. From 1994 to 1997, he was the director of undergraduate studies in engineering sciences. He also supervises numerous graduate students in computer science.

An influential scholar at the crossroads of computer science and electrical engineering, Smith has published widely in major journals and conferences on computer architecture, languages, and operating systems. He is a leading expert on the architecture of computer systems, often proposing elegant solutions to improve the performance or decrease the cost of modern microprocessors. He is also known for his work on compilers — programs that translate a set of algorithmic steps in one computer language into an equivalent set of steps in another.

A member of numerous program committees for leading conferences in his field, he has played a central role in the ambitious collaborative effort to develop a National Compiler Infrastructure, an important shared resource for computer scientists with benefits for technology transfer. In addition, he is the founder of Liquid Machines, an enterprise-software company in the Boston area which provides innovative solutions to secure online documents, data, and e-mail systems.

Smith received a B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton in 1983, an M.S. in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1985, and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1993. He was appointed an instructor at Harvard in 1992 and assistant professor in 1993. In 1994 he received a prestigious NSF Young Investigator Award. He was promoted to associate professor in 1997, and to Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering in 2000.

Smith is married to Chris K. Smith, president and owner of Capstone Mortgage Company. They have two children and live in Lexington.

In a letter to the FAS community announcing the appointment, Faust expressed gratitude for the counsel she received throughout the search process. “Many people have generously offered me their perspectives on the FAS and the deanship,” she said, “and I am grateful to all of you – particularly, to the ten members of the faculty advisory group who devoted their time and care to the process, and to the other faculty, students, staff, and alumni who met with me or wrote to me to provide advice.

“David Pilbeam deserves our deepest appreciation for having stepped into interim service at an important moment for the FAS,” she added. “And Jeremy Knowles, who has led this Faculty with such exemplary dedication and courage, of course remains very much in all our thoughts.

“I hope you will join me in congratulating Mike Smith on his crucial new role in guiding the FAS forward,” Faust wrote. “He and I are committed to working as close partners in helping Harvard take the best possible advantage of the extraordinary opportunities before us.”