Dean of Faculty Safa Zaki is the next president of Bowdoin College

To the Williams community,

It is my great honor to inform you that our colleague, Dean of Faculty and John B. McCoy and John T. McCoy Professor of Psychology Safa Zaki, has just been announced as the next president of Bowdoin College, beginning July 1. As sad as I will be to say goodbye, I am delighted that she was chosen for such a prestigious presidency on the basis of her brilliant career at Williams.

Over the course of more than two decades at Williams, Safa has earned wide admiration as an educator, leader and advocate for both faculty and staff. An internationally renowned psychologist and cognitive scientist, Safa’s research focuses on how people divide the world into categories, visually and otherwise. Her studies earned funding from the National Institute of Mental Health early in her career.

The blend of analytical and humanist perspectives Safa brings to her scholarship is evident in the courses she has taught, ranging from Experimentation and Statistics to Concepts: Mind, Brain, and Culture and Great Debates in Cognition. Many Williams students have also honed their research skills in her Concepts and Categories lab. The findings from her projects have appeared in such journals as Psychological Science, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review and The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. Safa also chaired the Cognitive Science program from 2018 until her appointment as dean of faculty in 2020, was elected to the Committee on Appointments and Promotions, twice chaired the Committee on Priorities and Resources and the Faculty Steering Committee and sat on the Presidential Search Committee that helped bring me to Williams.

As dean of the faculty, Safa sustained her focus on excellence in research, teaching and scholarship by supporting creation of the Rice Center for Teaching; launching our Grants Office; and overseeing numerous searches for new faculty. She also stepped into the historic responsibility of facilitating our move to remote and hybrid learning in response to the pandemic, and co-facilitated the transition to staff hybrid work. She would undoubtedly credit many successes in these efforts to her skilled and experienced team in the Dean of Faculty’s office. Such gratitude and sharing of credit are characteristic of her leadership, and thanks are indeed due to her partners and colleagues there.

In Bowdoin’s announcement, their board chair, Scott B. Perper, celebrated Safa’s “appreciation for the humanities as well as science and technology, and her commitment to the imperatives of diversity, equity, and inclusion coupled with an authentic and engaging approach to leadership and team building.” I heartily agree. Over the years that I have known Safa, she has kept her sights fixed on advancing our academic excellence and shared values. I have been awed by her ability to absorb multiple points of view and take every interaction to heart, and then to incorporate those diverse perspectives into a coherent, strategic and often innovative vision. These talents, rooted in her keen intellect, experience and compassion, will enable Safa to serve the Bowdoin College community as well and faithfully as she has our own.

In the wake of this news, we will need to recruit a new dean of the faculty. I will work as quickly as possible with the Faculty Steering Committee to identify candidates and appoint a successor, whom we will announce as soon as the choice is confirmed.

In the meantime, allow me to close on a personal note. I, like many faculty, staff and students, will miss Safa as a colleague, friend, mentor and advocate. For her fellow faculty especially, this transition will be hard. But Safa is one of those special colleagues who has figured out how to preserve her scholarly and educational passions and infuse them into her administrative work. Knowing her as I do, I feel sure she will continue pushing for the greater academic good. That is simply who she is, and how she works. I look forward with you all to celebrating her successes to come.

We will announce a farewell event soon. In the meantime, please join me in congratulating Safa Zaki and supporting her during her busy transition.