The seniors who graduate today with marks of distinction are not the only ones who have earned high accolades over the last four years.
Professor of English and American Literature Lawrence Buell will step down as dean of undergraduate education this month with a similar record of accomplishment.
As dean, Buell serves as chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) and the Education Policy Committee (EPC) and has jurisdiction over all issues concerning undergraduate education.
"The role that I play is to try and be the advocate for strong undergraduate teaching," Buell said in an interview last week.
"Because Harvard is a big complicated place, doing anything important takes time," he said. "I look at my own service as part of a much longer effort to strengthen the teaching culture, an effort I'm sure will continue."
Appointed dean in 1992, Buell has spent his last four years focusing on student education issues like teaching fellow (TF) training, ethnic studies, grade inflation and environmental studies, and has for the most part produced concrete results.
"Even though a person may be one of a large number of administrators in a big complex institution, there are moments when a change is waiting to happen; and there certainly have been such moments in my deanship," Buell said, citing successes on issues like environmental studies and TF training.
Buell chaired the EPC when it recommended the establishment of the environmental science and public policy concentration, which was created in 1993.
During Buell's tenure, the Faculty implemented EPC resolutions to increase the language proficiency and teaching skills of TFs, mandated departmental training of TFs and established a program to acclimate international TFs to American culture.
Buell, a staunch advocate of a greater ethnic studies presence in the curriculum, chaired a Faculty committee on ethnic studies that recommended to the Faculty Council in 1993 that Harvard establish a standing committee in ethnic studies and hire more faculty specialists in the field.
He is also a strong supporter of curbing grade inflation and has circulated internal memos to departments and professors urging them to be more aware of it. He brought the issue before the CUE, which proposed adding an A/B grade that would correspond to a 13 on Harvard's 15-point grading scale or adding information about class size and average grades to transcripts.
Buell leaves the post with high praise from his colleagues for his devotion to improving the way undergraduates are taught.
"I think he has done an excellent job as 'pedagogical conscience' to the Faculty," Professor of the Social Sciences David Pilbeam said.
"He's been particularly concerned about teaching in small groups and has worked hard in improving the training for teaching fellows," added Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68.
Buell will be succeeded by Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures William M. Todd III. Because Todd will be on sabbatical next year, Pilbeam will return to the post he held from 1987 to 1992 for the 1996-97 academic year.
Leaving University Hall will allow Buell to devote more time to his teaching.
"I'm denying myself a pleasure [by] not teaching," Buell said. "I went into academia to begin with to teach, and I think I should at this point go back to it full-time."
Buell will be on sabbatical next year.
--Malka A. Older contributed to the reporting of this story.
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