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Nobles is MIT’s new chancellor

The political scientist and SHASS dean will now oversee student life.

August 24, 2021
Melissa Noble
Gretchen Ertl

Melissa Nobles, the dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences since 2015, has been named MIT’s chancellor as of August 18. She succeeds Cindy Barnhart, who returns to the engineering faculty after serving as chancellor since 2014.

Nobles, who earned her undergraduate degree at Brown University and her PhD at Yale, joined MIT in 1995 and served as associate chair of the faculty and head of the Department of Political Science before becoming dean. Her teaching and scholarship have focused on comparative ethnic politics and conflict, democratization, and retrospective justice. Her first book, Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics, examines how the development of the official census in both the US and Brazil contributed to racial categorization. Her second, The Politics of Official Apologies, studies government apologies for past injustices in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

In announcing the appointment, President L. Rafael Reif praised Nobles for her “exceptional judgment and sense of fairness paired with her incisive intellect, humane wisdom, careful listening, unfailing eloquence, and charismatic wit.” As chancellor, she will oversee matters including admissions, teaching and learning, residential life, student support, and efforts to prevent sexual harassment and misconduct. She hopes to “continue building on MIT’s work to create a healthy and respectful learning environment—one that nurtures intellectual curiosity and emotional maturation.”

“MIT students have an enormous amount to offer society,” Nobles says. “They also have an enormous amount to learn from society. We have to prepare them for both, for a lifelong journey of learning. Our challenge now is to expand our approach to educating the whole student.”

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