Larry Bacow and Claudine Gay.

Harvard President Larry Bacow introduces incoming FAS Dean Claudine Gay at Monday’s Faculty Room reception.

Photos by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Praise for Gay as a scholar and a leader

3 min read

Incoming FAS dean’s integrity, ‘rock-solid values’ have made an impression on Harvard colleagues

Among the notes that poured into President Larry Bacow’s office on Monday after he appointed Claudine Gay the new Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) was an elated message from a member of the Harvard community.

“This is such a tremendous gift to the FAS,” it read. “I’m beside myself.”

Bacow read the warm wishes by way of introducing Gay to scholars and staff at a Faculty Room reception on Monday afternoon.

“I’m delighted not to be beside myself, but rather, for the foreseeable future, to be standing next to Claudine and working with her,” Bacow said.

Cheers erupted from the packed room as a “delighted” Gay, who will start in her new role Aug. 15, took the podium.

“If we hope to remain at the frontiers of knowledge, doing that is going to require acknowledging that talent takes many forms, that mentoring is integral to academic and professional success, and that people do their best work when they feel their perspectives, experiences, and contributions are valued and respected,” Gay said.

“And as an elite institution, if we are to retain the trust and faith of the broader society, including the vast majority of the world that will never experience a Harvard education, we must be engines of social mobility both within and beyond our gates.”

Mahzarin Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics and chair of the Department of Psychology, was “thrilled” by the appointment, lauding Gay for “a real understanding of the FAS as a whole, and a boldness for the future.”

Senior Admissions Officer David L. Evans was among those who welcomed the new dean.

Gay joined the faculty in 2006. She is the founding chair of Harvard’s Inequality in America initiative and has served as dean of social science since 2015.

Leslie Kirwan, dean for administration and finance, praised Gay for her “down-to-earth style and collaborative approach to problem-solving.”

“Claudine is a brilliant scholar, a thoughtful and decisive executive, and a great colleague,” Kirwan said. “In her role as dean of social science, she has developed a keen understanding of the FAS’ challenges and opportunities, and amply demonstrated the strong leadership and strategic decision-making needed to meet them.”

Michael Brown ’83, J.D. ’88, who has worked with Gay on the Board of Overseers, called her interpersonal skills “remarkable.”

“Dean Gay draws everyone in and motivates everyone around her to bring their best self to the task at hand,” he said. “At every meeting, we have seen her profound commitment to stellar scholarship, broad inclusion, and academic excellences, all while bringing her warmth, integrity, and rock-solid values into every interaction and decision.”

Gay will succeed Michael D. Smith, who steps down after 11 years at the helm of the FAS.

“I welcome the challenge and look forward to learning your Harvard stories and to working with you to advance our shared mission,” she said.

Gay concluded by recalling a chance encounter with Smith a few months ago while walking her son, Costa, to school.

“Mike always looks so relaxed and his job is way harder than yours,” Costa told her.

The audience laughed as Gay added: “There will be plenty of reminders that these are pretty big shoes to fill.”

The incoming FAS leader is up to the task, said Dean of Arts and Humanities Robin Kelsey.

“Claudine is a person of sterling integrity and capacious intellect,” he said. “She listens, she learns, and she acts decisively.”