Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pioneering Political Science Scholar appointed Dean of MIT School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences

As shared by: Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office (Excerpts)
May 21, 2015

Political scientist Dr. Melissa Nobles has been named the new dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS), effective July 1. She will succeed Dean Deborah Fitzgerald, who announced last fall that she would step down this June, having served since 2006.

Nobles, the Arthur and Ruth Sloan Professor of Political Science and head of MIT’s Department of Political Science since 2013, is an accomplished scholar who has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1995. In addition to her role as department head, Nobles has served on a series of Institute-wide committees over the last decade.

“To tackle our global challenges — from water and food scarcity and climate change to digital learning, innovation, and human health — we need ambitious new answers from science and engineering. But because these challenges are rooted in culture, economics, and politics, meaningful solutions must reflect the wisdom of these domains, too,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif says. “Professor Nobles offers us a vision of the humanities, arts, and social sciences as the human stage on which our scientific and technical solutions have purpose and meaning. We are fortunate that she will bring to the deanship such an expansive worldview.”

Nobles says she believes research and teaching within SHASS are integral to all of MIT’s work.
“Upon being asked to serve as dean, I was thrilled and felt a great sense of honor and privilege to have the opportunity to lead such an important school at MIT,” Nobles says. “I think SHASS is so important because nearly all the rest of the endeavors at which the Institute so excels — science, engineering, business, and architecture — all exist within a social, political, cultural, and economic context, and that’s precisely where SHASS lives.”

She adds: “We have to be mindful of answering the question: To what ends are our technological and scientific endeavors being put? Many of the answers to those kinds of questions rest in the departments and courses in SHASS.”

Nobles joined the MIT faculty as an assistant professor in 1995 fresh from earning her PhD in political science at Yale. Since then she has distinguished herself as a scholar in MIT's best problem-solving tradition, living out her department's commitment to "rigor and relevance" through pioneering research on global questions of racial and ethnic politics and justice. She earned her first endowed chair, the Cecil and Ida Green Assistant Professor of Political Science, in 1997. She was promoted to associate professor of political science in 1999 and granted tenure in 2002. She became a full professor in 2009 and received her current endowed chair in 2010, before becoming department head.

In her two books, Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics and The Politics of Official Apologies, she draws illuminating comparisons across societies as disparate as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil and the United States. This cross-cultural perspective also informs her teaching, where she takes particular pleasure in watching students from the US and other parts of the world open each other's minds to new points of view.

Nobles was selected from a field of candidates evaluated by a faculty search committee. The search committee, chaired by Evan Ziporyn, the Kenin Sahin Distinguished Professor in MIT’s music program, comprised faculty from 11 different departments and programs within SHASS.

In all, SHASS has 21 departments, programs, centers, and consortia and 172 full-time faculty members. Its professors have won four Nobel Prizes, seven MacArthur Fellowships, four Pulitzer Prizes, 38 Guggenheim Fellowships, and four John Bates Clark Medals, among other distinctions.

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