New Currier Master To Bring Quiet Style

On the front flap of Joseph L. Badaracco’s best-selling book Leading Quietly, the Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School (HBS) lauds people who “choose responsible, behind-the-scenes action over public heroism to resolve tough leadership challenges.”

Badaracco will have the chance to bring that style of leadership to the students of Currier House next year as their new master.

“He’s written works on moral leadership and is coming into our House in a leadership position,” says Lacey Whitmire ’05, Currier House Committee president. “It will be interesting to see how he takes leadership in the House.”

Badaracco refers to the new post as an “adventure.”

“To spend a lot of your time with an extremely diverse group of people with all sorts of energy and ideas, I’d take that over a suburb any day,” he says.

Patricia O’Brien, Badaracco’s wife and future co-master, says she and Badaracco accepted the appointment “on the spot” when they received an offer from Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68.

While Badaracco, 54, teaches at HBS, O’Brien, 50 is dean of the business school of Simmons College in Back Bay.

The appointment of an HBS faculty member as House master is rare, but the new masters say they feel that their business backgrounds make them very well-suited to the job.

“We’ll more naturally think about the organization of the House and its management,” Badaracco says. “We hope to practice what we preach.”

O’Brien also says that she feels that her position as dean of the Business School at Simmons College gives her much of the experience necessary to be an effective co-master.

“Every time someone described the master’s position, they would say that the masters set the tone for the House, and deans very much set the tone for schools,” she says.

And outgoing Currier House Master William A. Graham says that he is not concerned that neither Badaracco nor O’Brien is a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

“We have a number of non-FAS masters,” says Graham, who is dean of the Divinity School.

Graham also says that the House’s current roster of tutors is “possibly the strongest in a dozen years,” and that they will serve as a major source of support for the new masters.

Badaracco also says he is considering teaching courses in the FAS.

“[Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71] asked if I’d be interested in teaching a freshman seminar, and I said ‘Sure,’” he says.

When asked about the difference between HBS students and undergraduates, Badaracco says he thinks a large change occurs in the seven to ten years of work experience that most incoming HBS students have.

“The [HBS] students are amazingly well-organized, but…they can spend two years at this amazing university and focus heavily on school, courses, their job and closely-related social activities,” he says.

In contrast, he says undergraduates are much more open to a wider range of experiences.

“My impression of undergrads is that they don’t have this overwhelming purposefulness,” Badaracco says, “so many undergraduates are out trying all sorts of different things, which I think is just what they should be doing.”

Badaracco and O’Brien have four daughters. Maria, 22, is teaching at Boston’s Home for Little Wanderers, a non-profit family service agency. She will be leaving for the London School of Economics in July. Anna, 20, and Louisa, 17, will be at Northwestern University this fall.

“It’s a great school, and they’ve been very happy to go there, but for the first couple years they just live in a dorm with an R.A. [residential advisor] down the hall…There’s nothing resembling these Houses which take something big and anonymous and make it into something more personal,” Badaracco says.

The couple’s fourth daughter, 10-year-old Gabriella, will also be moving into Currier.

“Gabriella…has been to the House several times and a number of people have been really nice to her,” Badaracco says. “In some ways she thinks students in Currier will be substitutes for her older sisters.”

O’Brien says she expects her youngest daughter to flourish in Currier.

“I think she’s just going to thrive having so many smart, talented, interesting people around her,” she says, “we think it will be a wonderful way for her to grow up.”

Badaracco and O’Brien say that Currier House is well-designed to foster a strong community.

“Our impression of Currier is that partly by virtue of its location in the

Quad, it may be more of a cohesive social unit,” says Badaracco, “Unlike the older Houses, everyone goes in the front door, and everything is organized off the big corridor.”

He adds that he is excited to revive the lapsed tradition of the annual House musical.

According to Shasa R. Dobrow ’97, a tutor in Currier House, the new masters are already involving themselves in House life—even joining the outgoing masters and the House tutors in a “Joe Millionaire” spoof at this year’s senior dinner.

The skit, called “Joe Riverhouse,” was the story of potential masters interviewing for what they thought was a river House when in fact they were interviewing for Currier.

“I thought that was very impressive, that they were willing to come with no rehearsal and play themselves in our senior skit,” Dobrow says, “I think that bodes well for our future here.”

—Staff writer Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mohammed@fas.harvard.edu.