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Dean of Arts and Humanities Robin Kelsey To Step Down At End of Academic Year

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Robin E. Kelsey, Harvard’s dean of Arts and Humanities, will step down from his post at the end of the 2023-24 academic year, according to a Monday afternoon email to divisional faculty from Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra obtained by The Crimson.

In a phone interview Monday night, Kelsey confirmed he was stepping down, saying the decision was “a complicated one with many factors involved.”

“The bottom line is, the timing just feels right to pass the baton,” he said.

Since 2022, Kelsey has helmed a committee reevaluating the structure and organization of the division, part of a larger three-year strategic planning effort launched by then-FAS Dean Claudine Gay.

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One of the committee’s preliminary proposals — to consolidate three language concentrations and one secondary into a broader concentration called “Languages, Literatures, and Cultures” — drew backlash from professors in the language departments.

Though the proposal was later scrapped, according to a committee member, some professors said they feared it was a first step to a broader restructuring of the division that could eliminate small departments.

Kelsey said the negative feedback surrounding the divisional strategic planning process was not a factor in his decision to step down.

“I always expected there to be some very difficult and contentious conversations in the course of the strategic planning process,” he said. “So encountering disagreements was no surprise.”

In her email, Hoekstra said Kelsey would continue to oversee the strategic planning process as it concludes at the end of the academic year. Kelsey said it was too early to say what the conclusion of the process would bring.

“I have been doing my best to lead an initial round of those conversations,” Kelsey said. “And I’m looking forward to delivering the results of that to Dean Hoekstra.”

He said that with the conclusion of the process, he was “close to completing my main aspiration during the latter part of my deanship.”

Kelsey, a professor in the History of Art and Architecture department, has served as dean of the division since 2016.

“I think that people can stay too long in these positions,” Kelsey said. “This is my eighth year. I think eight years is an ample span.”

“It’s what we allot as the maximum for our U.S. presidents, and it strikes me also as a good run for a divisional dean,” he added.

In her email, Hoekstra called Kelsey “an inspiring leader and a tireless proponent for the Arts and Humanities division.”

“Robin has dedicated himself to attracting, supporting, and retaining faculty in the Arts and Humanities,” Hoekstra wrote. “During his time as Dean, the Division of Arts and Humanities has reached into new areas of scholarship and creative practice, strengthening and diversifying its faculty in the process.”

The selection of Kelsey’s successor will be just the second major academic appointment of Hoekstra’s tenure, following School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean David C. Parkes. Kelsey said he did not know what the timeline for selecting a new dean would be, but that he would not be formally involved in the selection process.

He said he did not have another administrative position — at Harvard or elsewhere — in his sights.

“Right now, I’m just looking to return to my regular duties as a member of the faculty,” he said. “It’s a fantastic job.”

Correction: November 7, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Kelsey’s successor will be the first major academic appointment of Hoekstra’s tenure. In fact, it will be the second.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at rahem.hamid@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @eschisgall.

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