The Center Mourns the Loss of Professor Robert Lue

November 13, 2020

It is with great sadness that the Center for African Studies mourns the loss of Professor Robert Lue, Professor of the Practice of Molecular and Cellular Biology & Richard L. Menschel Faculty Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. We send our deepest condolenses to Professor Lue's family and friends. Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong shares a few words about Professor Lue below:


"Robert (Rob) Arnold Lue, Professor of the Practice of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University, passed away on November 11, 2020 after a short bout with cancer. He was 57. Rob was a good friend, and a close ally and strong supporter of Harvard’s Center for African Studies. He had played several pioneering roles at Harvard in the sphere of technology, online learning, and innovative teaching. Rob was founding director of HarvardX, a university-wide initiative created in 2012 to inspire breakthroughs in online pedagogies. The same year Harvard and MIT came together to establish edX. In 2013 he was named the inaugural Richard L. Menschel Faculty Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard. He was director of the Harvard-Allston Educational Portal (Harvard Ed Portal), and on stepping down as director of HarvardX went on to become the faculty director and principal investigator of LabXchange. Rob was honored with a UNESCO chair in Life Sciences and Social Innovation. In short, if I had a question on technology and education, I went to Rob.


Visiting Rob at HarvardX in 2016, as faculty director of the Center for African Studies, I asked: how many courses does HarvardX have with a focus on Africa? Rob searched online and looked up at me with some embarrassment: he could count the courses on one hand. For a continent with 1.2 billion people, that did not seem right. And for Rob who grew up in Jamaica with his friend who grew up in Ghana, it was clear something had to be done about this. Thus, began a series of conversations about how CAS and HarvardX could work together with institutional partners in Africa to create online courses with content designed specifically for African Universities. We reached out to Ernest Aryeetey, executive director of the newly established African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), an Alliance of fifteen of Africa’s leading research universities, for his input. As we explored the sciences and technology, we reached out also to the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and to NEPAD’s Science Technology and Innovation Hub (NSTIH) for their input. To ensure that policy concerns were not ignored, we brought in the Research Institute of the African Development Bank (AfDB).


CAS co-hosted a major international conference at Harvard on March 30-31, 2017 on the “Role of the Diaspora in the Revitalization of African Higher Education.” Rob was on a panel on “Technology and Digital Platforms in Higher Education at African Universities.” Berhanu Abegaz, Executive Director of the African Academy of Sciences, attended the conference; as did Dr. Aggrey Ambali, head of NSTIH. We used this opportunity to convene a meeting at the Derek Bok Center, with Ernest Aryeetey and colleagues from the African Development Bank joining us virtually. The conversation has evolved since then, as Rob moved on to LabXchange, and the chair from UNESCO made him more vested in the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, LabXchange lent itself better to creating new content with African academic needs in mind.


In two separate meetings this week I mentioned Rob’s work and his partnership with CAS. The Akan of Ghana believe that a person’s name and spirit are closely connected. Rob has been on my mind this week and I meant to reach out to him. Then came an email yesterday afternoon from his chief of staff at LabXchange, Ilyana Sawka, that Rob had passed away that very afternoon in hospice. May his soul rest in peace. Our condolences to his family and loved ones. CAS has lost an ally. I will miss my friend."

- Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong

Oppenheimer Faculty Director, Center for African Studies
Ellen Gurney Professor of History and of African and African American Studies
Harvard University