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UPDATED: November 12, 2015, at 10:16 p.m.
After nine years at the helm of Harvard Medical School, Dean Jeffrey S. Flier will step down from his position at the end of next July, when he will take a sabbatical year and then return to the school as a faculty member.
In an interview Thursday, following the announcement of his upcoming departure, Flier characterized his move to step down as a natural transition, given that he has held the position for what he considers a significant amount of time. Flier said he met with University President Drew G. Faust earlier this month to discuss his plans to resign.
“Anytime you take a job like this, there’s a point at which you decide it’s time to let someone else go forward,” Flier said. “I am going to be completing nine years.”
Throughout his tenure as dean, Flier oversaw the historic overhaul of the Medical School’s curriculum. Rolled out earlier this academic year, the new curriculum—its most significant update since the 1980s—integrates multiple disciplines into single courses and uses the flipped classroom model over traditional lecture formats.
Flier divided his initiatives into three broad categories: education; service, including renaming the social medicine department to the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine; and research, referring to the Department of Biomedical Informatics’ launch earlier this year.
Flier said stepping down at the end of the year would best allow for a smooth transition.
“I wanted to be sure that the initiatives and reforms that we were putting in place were in solid, viable, exciting shape before I decided I would step away from the job, and I concluded over the last couple of months that this was true,” Flier said. “The things that I had been working on that were most taking my energy and are new are now going to do well, whether I’m the dean or not.”
Flier is the latest in a series of deans to depart the helms of their respective schools. At the end of last school year, David T. Ellwood ’75 stepped down from his position as dean of the Kennedy School of Government. At the end of 2014, Cherry A. Murray resigned from her post as dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to direct the U.S. Energy Department’s Office of Science. Julio Frenk, too, left his post as dean of the School of Public Health this year to become president of the University of Miami.
Richard M. Schwartzstein, a Medical School professor who chaired the task force on its curriculum redesign and worked closely with Flier, said Flier will leave a lasting legacy because of his commitment to education.
“He’s been incredibly supportive of the academy and of education in general and has encouraged us to proceed with a very innovative curriculum,” Schwartzstein said. “I’m confident that it will be a transformative curriculum and it will be a part of what he’s remembered for.”
Flier’s resignation comes as the Medical School seeks to raise $750 million in a capital campaign, efforts that deans typically lead, courting donors and alumni around the country. The campaign publicly launched last November, and the school has raised $467 million toward the goal.
“The campaign, especially in terms of education, is really critical,” Schwartzstein said. “We have to create new learning spaces that will facilitate this new curriculum and the teaching styles we’re using, and [Flier] was very aggressive in making those kinds of changes.”
According to Flier, the capital campaign is “on target,” and he said his commitment to the school will last beyond his deanship.
“I’m not abandoning the school or going away,” Flier said. “I’m going to be on the faculty, and I’m happy to keep alive the relationships that I’ve built to support this school.”
In a statement, Faust said she would work with Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 to select a successor. Flier will not serve on the search committee, he said.
“From the moment he accepted my invitation to serve as dean, Jeff has invested himself relentlessly in sustaining Harvard Medical School’s excellence and enhancing its extraordinary contributions to improving health,” Faust said in a statement.
—Staff writer Michael S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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—Staff writer Melanie Y. Fu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MelanieYFu.
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