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Philosophy Professor Sean Kelly To Serve as Next Arts and Humanities Dean

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Updated April 17, 2024, at 3:52 p.m.

Philosophy professor Sean D. Kelly will serve as the next Arts and Humanities dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra announced in an email Wednesday morning.

Kelly, who currently serves as Dunster House faculty dean, will begin the role on July 1. He will succeed outgoing Arts and Humanities Dean Robin E. Kelsey, who announced in November that he would depart the role at the end of the spring semester.

Kelly will take the helm toward the end of a contested strategic planning process — which, as the chair of the dean’s study group on administrative support, he was personally involved in. Some faculty criticized the planning process last semester for considering a proposal to merge some of Harvard’s smaller language programs.

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Kelly is the first of two new divisional deans Hoekstra is set to name this year. Physics professor Christopher E. Stubbs, who currently serves as dean of the Science division, announced in November that he would also leave his deanship at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year.

Kelly had entered the running for Arts and Humanities dean in January, when Hoekstra put out a call for candidates, according to a person familiar with the search process.

The decision appears to have been made close to Hoekstra, with many faculty members in the division — including several department chairs — in the dark as the decision was finalized.

Kelly is a familiar face for FAS leadership. In November, he was selected to chair the committee considering renaming requests for Winthrop House. He also led a committee that reviewed Harvard College’s General Education program, heading a 2015 report that instated the current Gen Ed program.

In her email, Hoekstra described Kelly as someone who is respected for his “deeply collaborative and inclusive leadership style, as well as his ability to build community around issues of genuine significance.”

In February, Hoekstra told The Crimson that she hoped to select a dean who promoted working across divisions. Kelly, a philosopher, holds degrees in mathematics and computer science, and in cognitive and linguistic sciences. Over the course of his career, he has taught both philosophy and neuroscience.

Hoekstra praised Kelly’s multidisciplinary background in her announcement this morning, describing his trajectory from studying at the University of California, Berkeley math department to becoming “the first philosopher at Harvard since William James to have had a psychology lab.”

“Sean has sought to bring people together across a broad range of academic backgrounds to advance teaching and learning for the benefit of all,” she wrote. “He is as comfortable talking with mathematicians, computer scientists, psychologists, historians, and sociologists, as with classicists, philosophers, literary theorists, and poets.”

After accepting the role, Kelly will be decreasing his teaching load. He had previously planned to teach two classes in fall 2024: Philosophy 34 (an introductory course on existentialism) and Philosophy 138 (a class on German philosopher Martin Heidegger).

In a Tuesday email to students enrolled in Phil 138 for next semester, Kelly announced that the class would be canceled “due to an administrative task [he] was very recently asked to take on.” FAS spokesperson Holly J. Jensen confirmed to The Crimson that Phil 34 would also be canceled for the fall semester.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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