Hyman Returns to Harvard

Another NIH defection. Steven Hyman is leaving the helm of NIMH to take the #2 job at Harvard.

Harvard University announced today that it has chosen Steven Hyman, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), as its provost. Hyman will assume the number two administrative post at Harvard under President Lawrence Summers on 10 December.

For Hyman, this represents a homecoming of sorts: Before taking charge of NIMH in 1996, he served as director of psychiatry research at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and was the first faculty director of Harvard's Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative. In a prepared statement, Hyman said he was "very excited to be returning to Harvard," and that he particularly looked forward to "the invigorating give and take with students that can only occur at a university."

When Hyman was recruited to NIMH 5 years ago, the institute had been without a permanent director for more than a year and was rife with internal disagreements. During Hyman's tenure, NIMH overcame these problems and undertook a massive overhaul of its intramural research program. During his directorship, Hyman faced a series of explosive issues, including an attack on behavioral research by members of a congressional funding committee, an investigation of NIMH-funded studies of how drugs affect children, and a debate on the social causes of adolescent violence. Hyman earned a reputation on Capitol Hill for handling such hot issues with skill.

Hyman's departure leaves yet another gap in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) leadership. The NIH has been without a permanent director since Harold Varmus resigned to become president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City in December, 1999. Recently, NIH also lost the leader of its National Cancer Institute, Richard Klausner, and, just last week, the leader of its National Institute on Drug Abuse, Alan Leshner.

In an interview with Science, Hyman said that he had made it clear when he came to NIMH that he only intended to stay for "5 or 6 years." He says he will miss the excitement of running a $1 billion research institution, but not the travel demands. One of the principal draws of academia, Hyman explains, is the extra time he'll have to spend with his three young children. Recently, he says, they convened a meeting and charged him with absenteeism--a crime to which he pleaded guilty.