Lewis Leaves Strong Legacy as Deanship Dies

In the summer of 1995, Harry R. Lewis ’68 rode into the Office of the Dean of Harvard College with a mandate to revolutionize the deanship from a weak administrative post into the central force in the residential and extracurricular lives of students.

Following on the heels of his influential “Report on the State of the College,” written in 1994 before he assumed the deanship, Lewis implemented the controversial randomization of the Houses.

The bold reform would characterize Lewis’ reign, showcasing his controlling and analytical style as well as his headstrong attitude in overcoming opposition.

He went on to consolidate the dean of the College’s power—by taking a more active role in appointing House masters, restructuring the administrative hierarchy of his office and paying scrupulous attention to student services from advising to extracurricular space—in such a way that he became the most powerful dean of the College ever.

But now, Lewis is being kicked out of the office that he has sculpted for the past eight years—and which may never exist again, if Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby successfully completes his proposal to merge it with the office of the dean of undergraduate education.

And the legacy of a stronger dean’s office that he would have left behind is teetering on the verge of extinction.

A College All His Own

In appointing Lewis dean of the College in 1995, then-Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles purposefully set out to revitalize the office.

Lewis was the first dean of the College to be a full Faculty member—occupying the title of McKay Professor of Computer Science—following a long line of pure administrators like his mild-mannered predecessor, L. Fred Jewett ’57.

“The previous deans—Fred Jewett particularly comes to mind—were highly respected by the Faculty, but coming up through the administrative route you just don’t have the same oomph,” former Lowell House Master William H. Bossert ’59 said last spring.

Lewis took Knowles’ cue to increase the weight and power of the office, strengthening his control over aspects of student life not traditionally under his direct jurisdiction.

He immediately marked the College as his territory in the fall of 1995 by hiring a new assistant dean of public service and director of the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), Judith H. Kidd.

Then in 1999, Lewis declined to name a replacement for Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III. Instead, he created an associate dean of the College position to deal directly with student groups, which he filled with David P. Illingworth ’71.

“Having two senior administrators who were dean of students and dean of the College confused the outside world and students,” Secretary of the Faculty John B. Fox Jr. ’59, himself a former dean of the College, said last spring. “Lewis has put a structure in place that is reflective of reality. There is a dean of the College, and he is in charge of these activities.”

Lewis also hired David B. Fithian as a new assistant dean to serve as a close link between the dean’s office and the Houses, keeping Lewis in constant contact with House masters and senior tutors.

This expansion of the number of deans in his office extended the reach of Lewis’ grip over undergraduates’ lives.