Harvard’s Board of Overseers names Leila Fawaz (left) as president and Robert Shapiro as vice chair of the executive committee for 2011-12.

Photos (from left) by George Ellmore/Tufts University; FAYFOTO/Boston

Campus & Community

Fawaz, Shapiro to lead Harvard Overseers for 2011-12

6 min read

Leila Fawaz, A.M. ’72, Ph.D. ’79, a Tufts University professor, former dean of humanities and arts, and prominent social historian of the Middle East, has been elected president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers for 2011-12.

Robert N. Shapiro ’72, J.D. ’78, past president of both the Harvard Alumni Association and the Harvard Law School Association, who is also a leading Boston lawyer with wide-ranging board experience, will become vice chair of the Board of Overseers’ executive committee.

Both Fawaz and Shapiro will be serving the final year of their six-year Overseer terms. They will assume their new roles following Commencement this spring, succeeding Seth P. Waxman ’73, former solicitor general of the United States and a partner at the law firm WilmerHale in Washington, D.C., and Mitchell L. Adams ’66, M.B.A. ’69, executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

“We’re greatly fortunate to have such an outstanding pair of Overseers to lead the board forward next year,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “Leila Fawaz and Rob Shapiro have brought extraordinary dedication and insight to their service as Overseers these past five years, and it will be a privilege to benefit from their leadership and guidance in 2011-12.”

Leila Fawaz

Fawaz is the Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies and founding director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University, where she also holds appointments as professor of diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and as professor of history.

Born in Sudan to Greek-Orthodox Lebanese parents and raised in Lebanon, she studied at the American University of Beirut, where she received a B.A. in 1967 and an M.A. in 1968. She pursued graduate studies in history at Harvard, receiving her A.M. in 1972 and Ph.D. in 1979.

A member of the Tufts faculty since 1979, she became a full professor in 1994 and chaired the History Department from 1994 to 1996. From 1996 to 2001, she served as dean of arts and humanities and as associate dean of the faculty. She is a recipient of the Lillian Leibner Award for Distinguished Teaching and Advising. Her leading publications include two co-edited volumes, “Transformed Landscapes” (American University of Cairo Press, 2009) and “Modernity and Culture” (Columbia University Press, 2002), and two authored volumes, “An Occasion for War” (University of California Press, 1994) and “Merchants and Migrants in Nineteenth-Century Beirut” (Harvard University Press, 1983). A Carnegie Scholar (2008-10), she is currently working on a study of the World War I experience of Muslims in the Middle East and South Asia.

A former president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and of the American University of Beirut Alumni Association of North America, she is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the Comité Scientifique of the Maison Méditerranéenne des Sciences de l’Homme at the Université de Provence. She has served on the advisory board of the Council for the International Exchange of Scholars and chaired the Council’s Fulbright Review Committee. Her editorial posts have included general editor of the book series “History and Society of the Modern Middle East” at Columbia University Press and editor-in-chief of the “International Journal of Middle East Studies.” Elected to the professional division of the American Historical Association, she has also served on the editorial board of the American Historical Review.

A member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers since 2006, Fawaz has served on the board’s executive committee since 2009. She chairs the board’s social sciences committee, leads the executive committee’s subcommittee on visitation, and is a member of the visiting committees to the College, Radcliffe Institute, the History Department, the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department, and International and Area Studies.

In 2000, she received the International Institute of Boston’s New Citizen Award, given to immigrants who have made significant contributions within their respective communities.

Robert Shapiro

A longtime partner at the Boston-based law firm Ropes & Gray, Shapiro is a leading member and former head of the firm’s private client practice and the partner in charge of firm-wide attorney training.

Shapiro graduated from Harvard College in 1972, having concentrated in philosophy, then studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, as a Fiske Scholar. After teaching secondary school English, he attended Harvard Law School, where he was a winner of the Ames Moot Court Competition and received his J.D. in 1978.

Long a major presence in Harvard alumni affairs, he served as president of the Harvard Law School Association from 2000 to 2002 and as president of the Harvard Alumni Association in 1991-92. He has been a co-chair of his 25th, 30th, and 35th College reunions.

As an Overseer, he chairs the standing committee on institutional policy. He also serves on the executive committee, the committees on humanities and arts and on alumni affairs and development, and the governing boards’ joint committee on appointments. He was an Overseer member of the corporation’s governance review committee in 2010 and is currently a member of the search committee for new members of the corporation.

One of the most active figures in Harvard’s visitation process in recent decades, he serves on the visiting committees to the College, the Divinity School, the Art Museums, and Memorial Church, as well as the Departments of Classics, English, History, the History of Art and Architecture, Philosophy, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Visual and Environmental Studies.

Widely experienced as a trustee of educational and cultural organizations, he is president of the board of trustees of the Peabody Essex Museum and is an overseer of the Handel & Haydn Society. He is a former trustee of Phillips Exeter Academy and the Noble and Greenough School.

First created as the “Committee as to the colledg at New Towne” by order of the General Court of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1637, the Board of Overseers dates to the earliest days of Harvard College. It is the larger of Harvard’s two governing boards, the other being the President and Fellows of Harvard College (also known as the Harvard Corporation). Members of the Board of Overseers are elected annually by holders of Harvard degrees. Typically, five Overseers are elected each year to six-year terms. Drawing on the diverse experience of its members, the board exerts broad influence over Harvard’s strategic directions, provides counsel to the University’s leadership on priorities and plans, has the power of consent to certain actions of the Corporation, and directs the visitation process by which various Harvard Schools and departments are periodically reviewed and assessed.