Summers Critic To Lead Graduate School

New GSAS dean will be second woman to hold position

Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology Theda Skocpol—one of the most vocal critics of University President Lawrence H. Summers’ leadership earlier this semester—will be the next dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS), Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby announced on Friday.

Skocpol will replace outgoing dean Peter T. Ellison, who has been at the helm of GSAS for the past five years, when he steps down on July 1. Skocpol will become the second woman to lead the graduate school.

She said she was offered the position at a lunch meeting with Kirby last Tuesday.

Only the dean of the Faculty has power to appoint the GSAS dean, although he first vets potential candidates with faculty members—and especially with the Faculty Council, the 18-member governing body of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

Sociology Department Chair Mary C. Waters, a longtime friend of Skocpol, praised Kirby’s decision to appoint her.


“I see it as a brilliant move by Dean Kirby to have a very, very capable and talented person be in charge of the graduate school,” she said.

Waters said the prospect of having a female dean—particularly in light of faculty disappointment with declining numbers of tenure offers made to women since Summers became president in 2001—might have been part of the motivation for appointing Skocpol.

“There’s been a lot of pressure to begin having some more women deans around here, so I’m sure that was one thing considered,” she said.

“I’m sure [being a woman] didn’t hurt,” Skocpol added.

In any case, Skocpol, herself a GSAS graduate, brings to the job a lot of experience at the school.

She has served as director of graduate studies for the Sociology Department, and she currently chairs GSAS’ Committee on Research Workshops.

According to Waters, the workshops committee, which Skocpol launched in 1994, provides funds for graduate students or faculty members to hold workshops to present their works-in-progress.

“I am delighted that Theda has agreed to lead the Graduate School at a moment of great strength and challenge,” Kirby said in a press release. “She is a national leader in multiple fields of study, a devoted mentor of graduate students, and a dedicated citizen of this faculty.”

The appointment is not without irony, though, as it makes Skocpol, a long-time critic of various administrators, an administrator herself.

Earlier this semester, she was one of the professors who led the first round of attacks against Summers.

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