Lewis Defended University Athletics

The decor in the office of Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 is dense and varied, a testament to his many interests. Amidst the exploration-era maps of North America, the computer science books, the dozens of rock samples and the mounted bull skull, it would be easy to miss the wooden hockey stick leaning in the corner.

The stick is signed by every player on Harvard’s 1999 national champion women’s hockey team. A team picture, also fully autographed, adorns the wall in the opposite corner. Lewis has said that the 1999 title game was one of the highlights of his deanship.

In his position as dean of the College, Lewis serves on 28 committees, including the Faculty Standing Committee on Athletic Sports and the Ivy League Policy Committee—on which he serves as Harvard’s representative.

“He’s been like a guiding light,” says Athletic Director Robert L. Scalise. “He’s helped keep things in balance and in perspective in the right way for a school like ours within the Ivy League.”

And Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby’s ouster of Lewis last month ruffled some feathers.

“I think it’s a tough day for the athletic department,” Katey Stone, coach of that 1999 championship hockey team, said the week of Lewis’s dismissal. “He’s been a tremendous supporter of the athletic department and specifically my program. He’s done a lot to help my players behind the scenes when we’ve really needed him.”

In the 100 year-old debate on the role of athletics at Harvard, Lewis falls in the camp that supports a more prominent place for athletics on campus.

“I view Harry as not only among the strongest advocates of athletics but among the most balanced and thoughtful with respect to the appropriate role athletics play at a strong academic institution such as Harvard,” says Vince McGugan ’72, chair of the Overseers’ Visiting Committee for the Department of Athletics since 1990. “He’s put a tremendous amount of personal energy into this set of issues and he’s had great success.”

Many stop short of speculating that Lewis’ departure reflects a rise of anti-athletic sentiment in the University administration. But many also agree that athletes are losing one of their biggest supporters at the moment when administrators in the College and around the Ivy League are considering potentially drastic changes to academic standards, forced rest time and a reduction in the number of admitted recruits.

Advocating for Athletics

Next to the women’s hockey team photo is the team photo of the 1930 varsity baseball squad, on which Lewis’s father-in-law was a big-swinging shortstop. Lewis’s own athletic career was not quite as illustrious.

Lewis says he gave up his spot as the third string goalie on the Harvard lacrosse team after a “brief and inglorious” career in order to focus “on academic things and also on my love life.”

As dean of the College, Lewis has found an outlet for his athletic enthusiasm by serving on committees to plan athletic policy in the College and in the Ivy League.

“I think the work of the athletic committee has been a labor of love for Harry,” says Dean of the Divinity School William A. Graham, who sits with Lewis on the standing committee on athletics. “He has put a tremendous amount of thought and energy and time into the whole question of both interscholastic and even intramural athletics.”

And Lewis has resisted efforts to shift focus away from athletics.

“I have a very traditional and idealistic view of athletics in the Ivy League,” Lewis says.