Steven E. Hyman, a neuroscientist who has served as Harvard's provost through turbulent times and been a key architect of many of the university's most ambitious collaborative scientific ventures, announced today he will step down from his position at the end of the academic year.
Hyman, 58, has been provost for nearly a decade, helping steer Harvard through everything from the resignation of Larry Summers as president to the global financial crisis, which hit Harvard's endowment and disrupted plans to build a science complex in Allston. Now, he plans to focus on his scientific career by spending a sabbatical year at the Broad Institute -- a genomics research organization in Cambridge that is one example of the collaborative research efforts he helped build.
"I had intended to do this [job] for five years ... but things at Harvard were turbulent and complicated, and it seemed wrong to step away from this at times of difficulty," Hyman said in an interview. "Part of the timing now, besides the fact that 10 years is a good run, is that Harvard has weathered a lot of storms and has a very strong leadership team and strong president and is doing fine."
The search for a new provost will begin next year. Hyman noted that one challenge for his successor will be the ongoing work of breaking down barriers that have cordoned off scientific and medical researchers into different silos. Hyman was involved in the launch of prominent interdisciplinary research efforts, including the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard, and the Broad.
The greatest challenge of his tenure as provost has been the recent financial turmoil, Hyman said. Another major issue has been the issue of diversity among faculty, which rose to a pitch after Summers made controversial comments in 2005 about the reason for the gender gap in math and science. Hyman noted that there has been progress -- a burgeoning pipeline of women in the life sciences, and finally a tenured woman math professor, but that it has been slow.
In his next step, Hyman hopes now to think deeply about what areas of science he can make the greatest contribution in. He is particularly drawn to the efforts to use the powerful tools of genomics to probe the biological mechanism of diseases such as autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder -- and point the way to new treatments.
"He has spurred fresh thinking and important initiatives in areas ranging from the sciences to the humanities, from the museums to the libraries," Harvard President Drew Faust said in a statement. "In all of these areas and more, he has approached his role with intelligence, passion, and wit, and with a devotion to the highest academic standards."
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