Melissa Nobles, SHASS dean, appointed to chancellor post

Philosophy professor Agustin Rayo named interim SHASS dean

Melissa Nobles, Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) and a professor of political science, will serve as MIT’s next chancellor, effective August 18, President L. Rafael Reif announced in an email to the MIT community on June 17. She will replace Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86, PhD ’88, who officially steps down from the chancellor role July 1. 

As chancellor, Nobles assumes one of the “Institute’s two most senior academic” positions — the chancellor (along with the provost) “reports to the president of MIT.” In this role, Nobles will oversee “student life and learning, in a broad role that encompasses undergraduate and graduate education and student well-being, as well as strategic planning and fundraising” for all student-related matters. 

Nobles underscored the importance of her role, stating that it is “an honor to serve as chancellor and to continue building on MIT’s work to create a healthy and respectful learning environment — one that nurtures intellectual curiosity and emotional maturation,” according to MIT News.

Nobles is a “pioneering scholar on questions of racial and ethnic politics and retrospective justice in society,” and previously served as associate chair of the faculty and as department head in the political science department, Reif wrote. He further stated that she is “an invaluable member of MIT’s academic leadership,” emphasizing her “exceptional judgement and sense of fairness paired with her incisive intellect, humane wisdom, careful listening, unfailing eloquence, and charismatic wit.”

As a political science faculty member, Nobles has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses, including those on “comparative ethnic politics and conflict” and “democratization”; among her projects while serving as SHASS dean, Nobles led efforts to ensure that campus education be “expansive, multidisciplinary, and socially relevant,” MIT News wrote. 

In particular, she “developed connections between existing academic fields and the Schwarzman College of Computing”; encouraged new research courses, such as those exploring MIT’s history and “ties to slavery”; and worked to encourage new infrastructure for SHASS departments, notably including “the new music building on campus.”

In an interview with MIT News, Reif said he spoke to “colleagues and students to get a sense of the qualities our community feels are most important in our next chancellor, and inviting suggestions for candidates who embody those qualities,” regarding the chancellor selection process. Reif also reportedly reviewed feedback in response to Barnhart’s decision to step down. While no official committee was appointed to search for a new chancellor, Reif asked “a few colleagues to join” him in interviewing finalists. 

Following the announcement of Nobles’s appointment, Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 shared that Agustin Rayo PhD ’01, professor of philosophy, would serve as the interim SHASS dean, effective August 18, via email. Schmidt also shared in an MIT News article linked in his email that he had appointed a committee, chaired by Professor Caspar Hare, to select the next SHASS dean. The committee will reportedly “widely engage the MIT community” and will solicit feedback from various stakeholders “across SHASS and beyond” and provide Schmidt with recommendations later in the fall.