Gross Stretches to Prepare for New Roles

On a chaotic afternoon on the fifth floor of the Science Center, Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71 holds his office hours as a tenured mathematics professor.

A film crew from Hong Kong—in Cambridge to film a documentary on award-winning Graustein Professor of Mathematics Shing-Tung Yau—stands impatiently in the hallway waiting to interview Gross, while another of Gross’ colleagues, Cabot Professor of Natural Sciences Curtis T. McMullen is at the blackboard, excitedly discussing elliptical curve differentials.

Gross, unphased by the tumult of his office, listens attentively to his fellow professor, ushers the film crew through the narrow doorway, takes a phone call, prints his schedule and finishes his blueberry yogurt without a hint of stress or panic.

This is typical for Gross, whose demeanor more closely resembles that of the cardigan-wearing, soft spoken, fondly remembered third grade teacher than a man who constantly juggles the titles professor, adviser, dean and dad.

In July, he will take on yet another set of duties.

Gross is slated to assume responsibility for all aspects of students’ lives—from academics and extracurriculars to parties and discipline—in a newly revamped post that will combine his current office with that of the dean of Harvard College.

True to character, Gross is taking a hands-on approach to figuring out how to combine the two roles.

This spring he added sporting events, student performances and meetings with the Administrative Board to a schedule already filled by appointments with professors, discussions about the freshman seminar program and planning sessions for next year’s curricular review.

And during breaks he managed to eat lunch with his son, dine with University President Lawrence H. Summers, and defend four math Ph.D. theses.

As his responsibilities accrue, some question whether Gross is spreading himself too thin.

“I have a lot to do,” he admits.

But if his schedule is any indication, Gross likes trying to do it all.

“There’s only way to learn about these things and that’s to go,” Gross says.

Down the Hall

Gross stands before a room of nine other math professors to defend the doctoral thesis of graduate student Martin H. Weisman, which he supervised.

Mathematics is the only department in which it is customary for professors to personally defend the doctoral theses of the students they oversee.