Memoirs in the Works, Epps Turns a New Page
Even though he's no longer personally responsible for all of Harvard's undergraduates, Archie C. Epps III can't seem to get Harvard out of his system.
After 28 years as dean of students--a position he stepped down from last year--Epps still has one of the most recognizable faces on campus.
As he walked through the Faculty Club dining room last Thursday to get to his table, fellow diners welcomed him with a chorus of "Hello!" and "Hi, Dean Epps!"
Easing into his chair underneath the portrait of an 18th century Puritan minister, Epps says the two and a half days he now spends on campus each week keep him connected to the place to which he has devoted much of his adult life.
Epps--a man with a penchant for bow ties and Harvard history--compares the difficult task of loosening his bonds to the College with "stepping out of a painting that you just finished."
But between bites of salmon and long grain rice, Epps makes it clear that this former dean has no intention of losing interest in Harvard.
After three decades at the helm of an office in University Hall, Epps just can't up and leave--if only to make sure his predecessors can find his files.
"I've been telling people where I put everything," he says.
But he says much of his role now on campus is an advisory one--making him and his experience a ready resource to less seasoned administrators like Coordinator of Student Affairs Susan T. Cooke , Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth '71 and Coordinator of Transfer and Visiting Students Program Julia G. Fox.
"I'm like Larry Bird, coaching from the bench," he says. But "I'm trying to pull back, and make way for new leaders."
And the great number 33 says this less time-consuming role is a welcome change of pace after the rigors of his last position.
He says that he doesn't miss sitting by the telephone nights as he used to do--ready to deal with a problem that arose after hours. In the past, Epps said it was his priority to be present whenever an undergraduate was admitted to a hospital or a mental institution so the student would get the best care possible.
"Rarely a week went by when I didn't get a call at night," he says. "I'd walk around [the campus] at night and look around, to see what was up."
Giving up this personally demanding role, however, has been difficult, says Epps, a navy Veritas scarf tucked under the lapels of his characteristic blazer.
"I have to learn to do less and be in a supportive role," Epps says. "I always had some crisis to deal with."
Rather than dealing directly with students groups--once a major component of his postion--Epps says he now gets to be a spectator at football games, Glee Club concerts and theatrical productions.
To sort through his years at Harvard, Epps says he has already written 300 pages of his memoir--and is just starting to tackle the tumultuous time of 1969, when University Hall was taken over by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Epps, then a young associate dean, was forcibly removed from the building by protesters.
"[The memoirs are] about forty years spent at Harvard, it's one man's story with the place," he says.
Epps says he's also trying to include American history in his writing by telling how national events affected Harvard.
"We've got the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam and the South African investments," he says, referring in part to 1985's student protests of the Harvard Corporation's investments in apartheid South Africa.
While Epps has seen the College through anti-Vietnam protests and the infamous recent debate about returning grapes to the dining halls, he says his memoirs reflect the great love and passion he has for Harvard.
"I think that I'm talking about the romantic Harvard. I'm describing [Harvard] like I'd like it to be, rather than it is," he says.
Outside of Harvard, Epps also serves on the board of directors for two local private high schools, and on the board of the nearby Episcopal Divinity School. He's also a lifetime member of the Boston Symphony board of directors.
And his behind-the-scenes role at the College permits him the time to travel--though still with Harvard.
When he retired last spring, he and his wife took a "grand tour" of Europe to cities of the Italian Renaisance on a trip sponsored by the Harvard Alumni Association.
Epps says the group listened to lectures about the sites they were seeing and dressed for dinner to dine together.
"Then you put on your shorts and go trekking after a guide," he says.
Epps says he also plans to uphold the family tradition of visiting Bath, England this summer, his wife's native land.
"I could put up with anything during the school year, for I know two things," he says. "First that I will be in Bath [in the summer], and second, that I'll be sitting by the Royal Pavillion in Bath, and a Let's Go writer for the Harvard Student Agencies will come by. We always ran into each other."
At Harvard, Epps says he is joining the ranks of what he calls the "shadow cabinet" of former big-time players in the College administration who, upon retirement, play a more muted role at Harvard.
"Fred Jewett [former dean of Harvard College] is in Admissions, we're old timers...but our presence provides the College with some continuity," he says. "But we must not get in the way, there are different ways of running this place."
And over his dessert--a glass of pineapple juice--Epps says he is more than content with this new role. "I'm extremely happy, I have a real sense of fulfillment," he says with his toothy grin and a contented voice. "My life is full."