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Sharon Long appointed dean of School of Humanities and Sciences

President John Hennessy has appointed Sharon R. Long as the next dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. Provost John Etchemendy made the announcement at the Faculty Senate meeting on Thursday.

"I am honored that Sharon has agreed to take the helm of the school that forms the heart of this great university," Etchemendy said, citing Long's many contributions to Stanford.

The search for a new dean began in January with the formation of a committee co-chaired by Etchemendy and psychology Professor Ellen Markman, who praised the announcement.

"This is wonderful news for Stanford," Markman said. "Sharon Long has impeccable credentials. She is a brilliant, enormously well respected scientist who has won many of the most prestigious honors in her field. She is a fabulous, award-winning teacher. The school will be in excellent hands under her leadership."

Long is the William C. Steere, Jr. Pfizer Inc. Professor in Biological Sciences; professor, by courtesy, in the Department of Biochemistry; and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She succeeds Malcolm Beasley, who will step down in August after three years as dean.

"I believe that Humanities and Sciences has the potential to be the most creative, vibrant and outstanding school in the world," Long said.

"Most important, I have been convinced by President Hennessy of his strong and enthusiastic support for Humanities and Sciences to build in strength and distinction, to improve our resources and take the best possible care of our outstanding faculty at junior and senior levels," she added.

Largest school

Humanities and Sciences, the largest of Stanford's seven schools, encompasses the core humanities, fine arts, languages and literatures, social sciences, mathematics and the natural sciences. Founded in 1948, the school has 500 faculty members in 28 departments representing widely diverse disciplines from music to applied physics.

"Because the School of Humanities and Sciences carries out 80 percent of the undergraduate teaching at Stanford, what we do and how we do it will have an enormous impact on the quality of undergraduate education," Long noted.

She said her top priorities include building the school's financial resources to support scholarship and teaching, as well as raising the visibility of Humanities and Sciences and its special role at Stanford.

"Among the issues that personally interest me a lot would be strengthening our Asian languages and Asian studies programs; enhancing support for our students to pursue the fine arts and the performing arts; and assisting the birth of new and exciting collaborations between the mathematical and experimental sciences," she said.

Long praised outgoing Dean Beasley, "whose hard work has laid the foundation for upcoming efforts to build resources and provide the basis for meeting many outstanding needs for the school."

Her comments were echoed by Etchemendy.

"John Hennessy and I are extremely grateful to Mac Beasley for all of his efforts these last three years, but most especially for bringing clarity to the state of the school's finances," Etchemendy said.

"We look forward to continuing to work with Mac until he steps down this summer, and ask you to join us in thanking him for the sacrifices he has made to lead the school."

Research and honors

Long, 50, earned a bachelor of arts degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1973 and a doctorate from Yale University in 1979. She joined the Stanford faculty in 1982 as assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences.

An authority on the interactions of microbes and plants, Long's research has led to numerous advances in understanding the important process of nitrogen fixation, in which Rhizobium bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia that can be absorbed by plants. Her research group uses molecular, genetic and biochemical techniques to study how Rhizobium cells recognize and form nodules on their plant hosts. Her research on the regulation of the plant-bacterial symbiosis will be of direct use in controlling the effects of undesirable pathogenic bacteria and in reducing the need for expensive, nitrogen-based fertilizers.

Long has received numerous honors since coming to Stanford, including a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the Shell Foundation Research Award and the Charles A. Schull Award from the American Society of Plant Physiology. She also is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the American Philosophical Society.

A recipient of a Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1988 and 1992, Long currently teaches a sophomore core course in molecular cell biology and a freshman seminar on experiments in microbiology, and leads a graduate seminar in molecular microbiology.

In addition to her research and academic work, Long has served on the Humanities and Sciences Appointments and Promotions Committee, as associate chair of the Department of Biological Sciences and on the search committee for Stanford's tenth president.

She is currently a faculty member on the Board of Trustees' Committee on Academic Policy and Planning, and a member of the executive committee of Bio-X Stanford's innovative interdisciplinary program designed to bring together cutting-edge researchers from the schools of Medicine, Engineering, and Humanities and Sciences.

"Stanford is a great place for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work, and I want it to stay in the forefront," Long said, "but we need to balance interdisciplinary innovations with disciplinary strengthening. I hope to work with departmental chairs, as well as program chairs and faculty, to learn their ideas on how to find the right balance."

When she assumes her new role as dean, Long will step down from her position on the Bio-X executive committee and as investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

She will continue conducting research on bacterial-plant symbiosis, but with a smaller staff and fewer graduate students.

"I will allow my lab to shrink over the next few years so that its steady state will be about half what it is now," she noted, "and I may continue some of my teaching."

The noted plant biologist added that her new job will allow her to "plant seeds that may develop, sprout and flourish over the years."

Long, husband Harold McGee and their teenage son and daughter live in Palo Alto.

In addition to Etchemendy and Markman, the search committee included faculty members Elizabeth Bernhardt, German studies; John Bravman, materials science and engineering; Patricia Burchat, physics; Gunnar Carlsson, mathematics; John Ferejohn, political science; Brad Gregory, history; John Rickford, linguistics; Jeffrey Schnapp, French and Italian and comparative literature; Timothy Stearns, biological sciences; Nancy Tuma, sociology; and Claude Reichard, senior lecturer, writing and critical thinking. The committee also included staff members Bettye Price, administrative services manager, biological sciences; and Stephanie Kalfayan of the provost's office.


By Mark Shwartz

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