Pedersen's Happy Legacy

The Dean of Undergraduate Education is known for reform and accessibility

From her first day in office on July 1, 2000, Dean of Undergraduate Education Susan G. Pedersen ’81-’82 has worked with refreshing energy and resolve to increase the quality of a Harvard education. We regret the recent news of her upcoming resignation, as she has served the students of Harvard College with distinction.

As dean, Pedersen renewed the focus on undergraduate education on campus by strengthening her office via a new associate dean position and promoting a proactive approach to undergraduate academic reforms. But more important, Pedersen has always listened to the concerns of College students and responded with programs that address their requests—from fostering student-Faculty interaction to expanding curricular options for undergraduates.

Within a year of her tenure, Pederson worked with Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles to nearly double the offerings of the Freshman Seminar program from 33 to 62 courses, greatly increasing the ability of first-years to build meaningful relationships with members of the Faculty.

Pedersen has consistently worked to loosen many of the unduly restrictive rules for students. In her most recent victory, she successfully secured the passage of a reduction in the number of Core requirements—a change which will provide students with greater choice of which classes to take.

Pedersen has also pushed to increase the study-abroad opportunities for undergraduates. She is pursuing recommendations from the Standing Committee on Study Out of Residence that would reduce the requirement that students justify their plan of study as a “special opportunity not available at Harvard,” devote half their courses aboard to studying the culture of their host country, and speak the host country’s language fluently. As chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE), Pedersen put these study abroad changes at the top of her agenda and it seems likely that they will soon be adopted by the Faculty.

Pedersen has also tackled several controversial issues during her tenure. As dean, she approved a change that would have established a certificate program in ethnic studies, before the move was sidetracked by the Faculty Committee on Ethnic Studies.

Perhaps the most challenging moments of her tenure came late last year, when the national media firestorm of the grade inflation controversy landed on her desk. Pedersen handled the pressure well, calling for a comprehensive review from each department of their grading practices. And though she made the mistake of ending the policy of awarding honors in general studies, at the same time, Pedersen pioneered a framework for constructive dialog on grade inflation across disciplines.

The University should make sure that the next dean of undergraduate education maintains the commitment and enthusiasm that Pedersen infused into the administration during her tenure. For her efforts and improvements we thank her, and wish her well.