Lewis Deserved Better

Kirby’s dismissal of College Dean under disingenuous pretenses shows lack of respect

Yesterday’s unceremonious revelation that Dean of Harvard College Harry R. Lewis ’68 is being forced to resign his position came as a surprise to the Harvard community. It is not a welcome one.

Dean of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences William C. Kirby, who is directly responsible for Lewis’ ousting, has attempted to cloak this removal in terms of a proposed reorganization of the bureaucratic structure of the College. But this is no excuse for such a sudden and public pink slip. Kirby’s new plan would consolidate the Office of Undergraduate Education, currently led by Dean Benedict H. Gross ’71, with the Office of the Dean of the College, in the most significant shuffling in recent history. But no compelling reason has been presented for why Lewis, an experienced and dedicated administrator, could not himself have survived the juggling. It is telling that while Gross, a Kirby appointee, has survived this supposedly sweeping change, Lewis is not even under consideration for the newly proposed position. The overwhelming likelihood is that Lewis’ removal has little to do with this administrative evolution, and everything to do with the personal and ideological clashes that Lewis has had with University President Lawrence H. Summers in the years since his installation. Kirby’s decision to announce Lewis’ departure as a purely bureaucratic matter seems clearly disingenuous.

Unfortunately, this tactic is less than surprising, given Kirby’s behavior in the months since his arrival as Dean of the Faculty. Recently, when pushing his plan for preregistration—a plan subsequently withdrawn in the face of widespread opposition from faculty and students—Kirby masked the obvious ill-effects his proposal would have had on student life. Counterintuitively, he maintained that preregistration would improve the undergraduate experience. Even less plausibly, he claimed that it would not substantially harm the College’s prized shopping period. But saying something does not make it so, and Kirby’s terms of description have borne little resemblance to the harsh realities of both preregistration and the departure of Lewis. Kirby would be wise to refrain from such misleading, sadly-transparent doubletalk when making controversial plans in the future. He will only gain the respect of students if he deals with them in a straight-forward manner. As he further outlines his justifications for the consolidation of these offices, he must be realistic about his motivations and the impacts his plans will have on students.

With the departure of Lewis, Harvard will lose a consistently forceful advocate for students. While the Staff has had its disagreements with him, Lewis has brought a level of uncompromising thoughtfulness, professionalism and skill to his office. The man who gave so many years of his life to Harvard College deserved better than this rushed and ignoble end to his Deanship.