Peter T. Ellison, the new dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), doesn't call himself an ambitious man.
But less than one semester into his term as dean, the biological anthropologist has big goals.
Ellison wants to fully endow the GSAS--an effort that will require raising $200 million to $300 million for the school. He'd like to build a residential campus for graduate students similar to the undergraduate Houses, possibly across the river in Allston.
And he wants to continue to buttress financial aid for graduate students, to ease the burden for starving scholars.
No wonder Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles has termed his plans for GSAS "indeed ambitious."
Amongst his colleagues, Ellison's name is virtually synonymous with graduate student aid reform. He lent his name to a report released in 1998 by a committee he headed. In the report, the committee advocated covering tuition for four or five years for needy students, compared to two years, the previous standard. This meant each department can give aid to the same group of students throughout their careers at GSAS.
According to Knowles, who convened the committee on Graduate Student Aid in 1997, the new system of funding allows the amount each department distributes in financial aid to remain stable from year to year.
"[There won't be] irrational annual swings in numbers that many programs used to suffer from," he says.
Ellison doesn't plan to stop working on financial aid any time soon.
"In order to continue to attract the best graduate students to Harvard, we have to offer an adequate amount of support," he says.
Ellison says he hopes to offer full support in the social sciences and humanities within six years. The new package would guarantee coverage of a year of research assistantship and a year of dissertation writing--plans that are currently available only on a competitive basis.
The package would also continue to offer two-year coverage of fellowship and teaching fellowship support.
But Ellison is concerned about more than just financial aid.
Ellison says he would like to see GSAS fully endowed by the next decade. He estimates that GSAS is now 60 percent funded and that $200 or $300 million would need to be raised to make GSAS self-sufficient.
Toward accomplishing that goal, Ellison says he aims to have a plan in place at the academic school year's end for a fundraising campaign that will appeal to a broader audience than GSAS alumni.
"Our alumni are very generous according to their abilities," Ellison says. "But Ph.D. students don't necessarily end up being as wealthy as other students. No one goes into academia to get rich."
Ellison adds that graduate students typically have strong loyalties to their department rather than to the GSAS as a whole, unlike undergraduates who feel connected to the College rather than their concentration.
Ellison says graduate student housing is another of his major priorities.
GSAS now guarantees first-year housing, but most students must find housing on their own in the competitive open market after their first year.
"The cost is skyrocketing and availability is plummeting," Ellison says. "We've taken for granted that our graduate students are here 24 hours a day."
The solution? A residential campus for graduate students, possibly located on Harvard's Allston site. Though Ellison says GSAS could be building in five years, he says current efforts will focus on making housing more affordable on this side of the river.
"Major goals like this one are not achieved quickly," he writes in an e-mail message. "Explicit plans are not yet in place."
These are Ellison's dreams. But he has short-term goals he plans to pursue for GSAS soon.
He wants to incorporate teaching into graduate school curriculum. He'd like to reduce the overall size of the GSAS. Ellison would also like to enhance research training for all students through a program called "Research Apprenticeships." Also on the agenda are plans to expand a pilot summer orientation program for international students.
Ellison, who himself earned his Ph.D. from GSAS, says he sees serving as dean as an opportunity to give back to Harvard.
"[Being GSAS Dean] is both daunting and challenging, and very rewarding," he says. "There's no break with what's being done in the past and I feel very wonderful to be building on the wonderful legacy left by [former GSAS Dean] Christoph Wolff."
While fulfilling his responsibilities as dean takes up an "enormous amount of time," Ellison continues to teach. This semester, he is teaching an upper-level undergraduate anthropology course and will teach graduate seminars as well.
Ellison's work as an anthropologist focuses on the evolution of the human reproductive system in response to environmental challenges like workload and disease, as well as the effects of factors like age. His fieldwork began 15 years ago with the pygmies of central South America and now includes work from Poland, Paraguay and Argentina.
A book spanning 15 years of Ellison's work as an anthropologist is due out this spring. Entitled "On Fertile Ground," the book attempts to explain the evolution of the human reproductive system.
Juggling the duties of an administrator and a professor is nothing new for Ellison. His list of administrative positions includes former chair of the Anthropology Department, chair of the Committee on Graduate Student Financial Aid and associate FAS dean.
Both Knowles and Wolff say these roles have equipped Ellison with the analytical and leadership skills necessary to lead GSAS.
While Ellison says he enjoys working with a broader cross-section of faculty as dean than he did in his other roles, he looks forward to teaching full-time after his term as dean concludes.
"I'm quite willing to [be dean] for awhile. One would have to do this job for at least five or six years to really make a contribution," he says.
"But I look forward with delight to returning to being a professor, to joining my colleagues again in the trenches of academia," Ellison adds.