Khurana is the Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development at Harvard Business School (HBS), professor of sociology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and co-master of Cabot House at Harvard.
FAS Dean Michael Smith announced the appointment in an email to the FAS community and praised Khurana as a scholar and teacher with deep experience working with undergraduates and a strong commitment to the College.
Khurana succeeds Evelynn Hammonds, professor of African and African American Studies, who stepped down last June after completing her five-year term. He will assume the role on July 1.
Harvard President Drew Faust said Khurana is a faculty leader who embodies the interconnectedness of Harvard.
"His experiences as a graduate student, an award-winning teacher at HBS, and the master of an undergraduate House give him a unique perspective on the University, and his deep respect for the liberal-arts model and the residential education will serve him well as he guides Harvard College," Faust said.
In announcing the appointment, Smith said Khurana is a distinguished scholar of organizational behaviour and leadership, an award-winning teacher, and a dynamic House master who has also engaged deeply with undergraduate issues on important committees.
"He brings to the deanship an intimate understanding of the Harvard College experience, a profound commitment to the values of a liberal-arts education, and a warm and compassionate personality that accompanies his belief in the importance of community and an inclusive approach to decision-making," Smith said.
Khurana, who earned his Ph.D. through a joint programme between HBS and Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1998, said he is "honoured" to be appointed as Dean and to "create a transformative educational experience" for the students.
"I am convinced that, working together, we will have a significant and positive impact on the College," he said.
Harvard Business School's India-born Dean Nitin Nohria also welcomed Khurana's appointment saying that his selection is a testament to his skill and vision as a teacher and scholar.
"I think the appointment is wonderful news, and I am looking forward to working with Rakesh to identify and strengthen efforts across the College and HBS that will benefit us all," Nohria said.
Khurana earned his bachelors from Cornell University and began graduate studies at Harvard in 1993, earning his Ph.D. in 1998.
He was appointed to the HBS faculty in 2000 and became co-master of Cabot in 2010. He taught at Massachusetts Institute of Technology between 1998 and 2000.
Prior to graduate school, he worked as a founding member of Cambridge Technology Partners.
Khurana's research uses a sociological perspective to focus on the processes by which elites and leaders are selected and developed. He has written extensively about the CEO labour market and business education.
He has been recognised for his commitment to pedagogy, twice earning excellence in teaching awards in 2008 and 2012.
Khurana has co-authored "Handbook for Leadership Theory and Practice" (2010) and "The Handbook for Teaching Leadership" (2012), seminal texts on leadership theory and pedagogical practice.
As a member of the Harvard community, Khurana led or served on a number of policy-making panels, including the Committee on Academic Integrity, Campus Culture, and the Alcohol and Other Drug Services Campus-Community Collaborative.
In 2011-2012, he co-chaired the Committee on Harvard College Alcohol Policy. Most recently, he served on the task force charged by Faust with recommending policies related to the privacy of electronic communications conducted at Harvard.
Last July, Smith announced the creation of an advisory committee consisting of faculty from all FAS academic divisions for selection of the Harvard College Dean.
During the fall semester, the committee solicited input from undergraduates, FAS faculty, and College administrators, holding meetings with House masters, resident deans, College staff, the Undergraduate Council, freshmen, upperclassmen, and faculty members.
The advisory committee developed a short list of candidates, whom they interviewed, and shared their feedback with Smith.
"Khurana came to us with a reputation for exceptional leadership skills, and he certainly handled the interview expertly. He listened carefully, was responsive, and spoke from the heart," said Professors Louis Menand, Professor of English.
"He was passionate about the College, about the academic side of the student experience, about the importance of liberal education generally," he said.