Evelynn M. Hammonds, the first African-American and first female dean of Harvard College, will step down as dean on July 1, according to a statement posted online May 28.

The announcement came just months after Hammonds was blasted for approving secret searches of resident deans’ e-mails in an effort to plug leaks about a cheating scandal involving more than 100 students. She will nevertheless remain at Harvard and return to teaching and research as a member of the History of Science and African and African American Studies departments.

While some, including the school’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, called on the longtime educator to step down, she told The New York Times that the e-mail scandal did not motivate her decision, and that she was instead impelled to return to the classroom.

“Being dean of Harvard College has been an immensely rewarding experience for me, but I miss engaging deeply with my scholarship and teaching,” Hammonds said in the online statement.

“I am looking forward to redesigning my classes in light of new technologies and modes of teaching,” she added, “and I’m eager to return to my teaching and research on race, genomics and gender in science and medicine.”

In the shared statement, university officials praised Hammond for her contributions to the undergraduate program at the university.

“Dean Evelynn Hammonds has led Harvard College through years of remarkable transformation,” said President Drew Faust. “She has fully invested herself in improving the experience of our undergraduates both inside and outside the classroom, and in promoting a culture of inclusion and community across the College.”

Among her accomplishments, Hammonds led the launch of the General Education Program and Wintersessions, established committees to enhance academic integrity, oversaw the logistical work to welcome back the Navy and Army ROTC to Harvard College; facilitated the creation of the first (Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Questioning) BGLTQ Office and many more.

A product of Atlanta, Hammonds graduated in 1976 with dual undergraduate degrees in physics, from Spelman College, and electrical engineering from Georgia Tech. She earned a master’s degree in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and started her career as a software engineer. She earned a Ph.D. at Harvard in the history of science, and then began her teaching career at MIT, where she was a founding director of MIT’s Center for the Study of Diversity in Science, Technology, and Medicine.

Along with her return to the classroom, Hammonds will also take on a new role at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, inaugurating a program on race and gender in science and medicine, topics that have been central to her scholarly work over the years. Hammonds said she is excited about the possibilities.

“Despite the inordinate impact that science and medicine have had on the lives of African Americans since their arrival in this country, scholarship on how our notions of race have shaped and have been shaped by the scientific and medical enterprise remains woefully understudied,” Hammonds said. “I want to continue work that I began at MIT to engage with scholars from around the world in transdisciplinary research on the role of race in science and medicine. There are many exciting questions to explore, especially with the explosion of genomics research. I am very pleased that the Du Bois Institute and Harvard will support this new program.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO