Currently dean of the faculty and the John B. McCoy and John T. McCoy Professor of Psychology at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, Zaki will be the first woman to lead Bowdoin since its founding in 1794. Her appointment follows a comprehensive national search and the unanimous recommendation of a nineteen-person search committee with representatives from the board, faculty and staff, students, and alumni. She will assume the role on July 1, 2023.
Zaki succeeds Clayton S. Rose, who announced last year that he would be stepping down at the end of the current academic year after what will be eight years as president.
“I am particularly inspired by Bowdoin’s commitment to the common good, something I sensed in all my conversations throughout the search process and in my time on campus.”
–President–elect Safa Zaki
“In Safa Zaki, Bowdoin has found a distinguished scholar and leader with a global perspective who believes deeply in the transformative power of a liberal arts education,” said Perper. “Her exceptional career in the academy, her 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 make Safa the right choice for Bowdoin. She clearly wants to make a difference in this world, and we couldn’t be more pleased or more excited to welcome Safa to Brunswick.”
Zaki is a psychologist and cognitive scientist whose research focuses on how people divide the world into categories. She uses computational approaches to model cognitive processes in order to enrich our understanding of the human mind. She relishes working with students in her lab and in the classroom and “love[s] introducing students to ideas that might make them question things they thought they knew while helping them assess the evidence for their positions.”
Known as an advocate for both faculty and staff, Zaki is currently responsible for the curriculum at Williams and for the recruitment, appointment, and promotion of faculty. She oversees academic departments and programs, including their budgets and personnel, graduate programs, athletics, the grants office, the Rice Center for Teaching, the Center for Global Languages, Literatures & Cultures, the Oakley Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Center for Environmental Studies, the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University, and the Williams-Mystic Program.
Bowdoin College President-elect Safa Zaki
Bowdoin Comes Out En Masse to Greet Sixteenth President Safa Zaki
“She is uniquely positioned to lead the development of a liberal arts curriculum for the twenty-first century—one that acknowledges global and societal challenges and the changing ways in which technology affects how new ideas are created and how truth is sought.”
–Presidential Search Committee cochair Bertrand Garcia-Moreno ’81, P’17
She is also deeply involved in college governance. She was elected to the Committee on Appointments & Promotions, and to the Faculty Steering Committee, which she chaired. She chaired the Committee on Priorities and Resources and was a member of the most recent presidential search committee at Williams, among other college service.
“My years at Williams have been wonderful,” said Zaki, “and I know Bowdoin shares many similar values, along with its own unique sense of community and its own traditions. I am particularly inspired by Bowdoin’s commitment to the common good, something I sensed in all my conversations throughout the search process and in my time on campus. I am so looking forward to joining the Bowdoin community, and to meeting and learning from everyone in it. I am honored, grateful, and excited to have been selected for this amazing leadership position, and to be the beneficiary of those who have made Bowdoin one of the world’s most distinguished liberal arts colleges.”
Born in Egypt, Zaki grew up in a number of countries, including Tanzania, Syria, Jordan, and Trinidad and Tobago. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at the American University in Cairo and traveled to the US in 1990 to pursue graduate education at Arizona State University, where she earned her master’s degree and doctorate, also in psychology.
Zaki joined the faculty at Williams in 2002 as assistant professor of psychology, after serving previously as a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University. She was promoted to associate professor at Williams in 2005 and to full professor in 2010. She twice chaired the Williams Program in Cognitive Science and was named Class of 1924 Professor of Psychology in 2021. She was named to the John B. McCoy and John T. McCoy Professorship in 2022.
“The single most important thing I can tell the Bowdoin community about Safa Zaki is that she will be deeply missed by Williams students, faculty, and staff alike,” said Williams College president Maud Mandel.
“That’s because, along with being an extraordinary scholar and teacher, Safa is a gifted problem solver who draws on her considerable analytical skills in her academic and administrative leadership. Throughout our close partnership, I’ve watched in admiration as she has consistently absorbed the most varied range of viewpoints and distilled them into a respectful, clear, and typically creative way forward. Whether she’s mentoring thesis students or building career support for junior and mid-career faculty, advising departments on budget strategy, or overseeing faculty searches, Safa's hallmark is her devotion to research and education, and the people at the heart of those endeavors.”
“In Safa Zaki, Bowdoin has found a distinguished scholar and leader with a global perspective who believes deeply in the transformative power of a liberal arts education.”
–Board Chair Scott Perper ’78
Zaki is the recipient of funding from The National Institute of Mental Health, and her research has been published in journals including Psychological Science, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, and the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, among many others.
“Safa’s character, exemplary scholarship and teaching, dedication to students, and deep experience as an administrator and colleague to faculty and staff make her the perfect leader for Bowdoin,” said outgoing president Clayton Rose. “Bowdoin is an extraordinary college and community, and I am thrilled that Safa will be our next president.”
“From the moment we met Safa, it was clear that she was a special person with the leadership experience and values to make a profound impact on the Bowdoin community.”
–Presidential Search Committee cochair Sydney Asbury ’03
The nineteen-member search committee that recommended Zaki to Bowdoin’s board of trustees was cochaired by trustees Sydney Asbury ’03 and Bertrand Garcia-Moreno ’81, P’17 and included nine other trustees, three members of the faculty, two staff members, two students, and an alumni representative. Its work was informed by numerous listening sessions to solicit input from faculty, staff, students, parents, trustees, and alumni along with community surveys and the solicitation of nominations from the larger Bowdoin community.
“From the moment we met Safa,” said Asbury, “it was clear that she was a special person with the leadership experience and values to make a profound impact on the Bowdoin community. Safa’s authenticity and kindness came through at every step of the process. We are so proud to welcome Safa and her family to Bowdoin College.”
“I am elated by Safa Zaki’s appointment,” said Garcia-Moreno, who serves as professor in the Jenkins Department of Biophysics and as vice dean in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “We are living in an era of remarkable change in which the relevance of higher education in general, and the promise of the liberal arts in particular, could not be clearer. Safa is the perfect choice to guide the College through the fascinating chapter that lies ahead. She is uniquely positioned to lead the development of a liberal arts curriculum for the twenty-first century—one that acknowledges global and societal challenges and the changing ways in which technology affects how new ideas are created and how truth is sought. We are very fortunate to be able to welcome Safa into our family.”
“Safa’s character, exemplary scholarship and teaching, dedication to students, and deep experience as an administrator and colleague to faculty and staff make her the perfect leader for Bowdoin.”
–Bowdoin College president Clayton Rose
Zaki is married to Huff Templeton, who will be joining her in Brunswick. His work centers on inclusive economic development and entrepreneurship. The couple has two recent college graduates—Adly, from Williams College in 2020, and Sabrina, from Middlebury College in 2022.
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Photo credit: Bradley Wakoff