Gross Finds Post Overwhelming

After hectic first year as dean of the College, structure changes again

A toothbrush and toothpaste stand sentry at the back door of the office of Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71, a testament to the long hours spent poring over reports and research on matters of undergraduate life.

He keeps his slim leather briefcase in a plush blue chair by his door, ready to run out to the many meetings that dominate his day, or to tread the familiar path to the offices of the mathematics department in the Science Center.

The office windows look out across the Yard to Mass. Hall, which houses the office of his boss and regular tennis partner, University President Lawrence H. Summers.

Though Summers and Gross teamed up on the tennis court last month to deal a decisive defeat to two Crimson editors, the dean has had little time to practice his forehand this past year—a year jam-packed with new responsibilities and the exigencies of skill acquisition for his new job.

Last March, Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby tapped Gross to take the helm of a revamped College administration, replacing former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, who was ousted in the restructuring.

The new arrangement combined two previously distinct offices: one overseeing academic affairs, the other handling non-curricular matters. Gross, who came from the former of those two offices, assumed responsibility for all facets of the undergraduate experience.

Depending on whom you ask, the restructuring may or may not have been an administrative move. Several officials at the time said personal incompatibilities with Lewis were the primary purpose for the restructuring. In contrast, Kirby said bureaucratic streamlining and preparation for the curricular review were the reasons for the change.

Regardless of the rationale, Gross has always insisted that the curricular review—the most expansive in 25 years—was the top priority of his deanship. He could not have anticipated many of the other pressing concerns that have sprung up this year.

The second suicide at Harvard in two years shook the College.

Gross found himself in constant dialogue with one of the most active Undergraduate Councils in recent memory.

He navigated University Hall through a national controversy when two students sought approval for a sex magazine.

He oversaw the activity of three new committees examining aspects of student life.

As responsibilities—both foreseen and unexpected—piled up, Gross and his colleagues realized the enormity of the duties he had undertaken as dean. The responsibilities have proved too much for one person.

Things would have to change.

With the appointment of Patricia O’Brien as deputy dean of the College one week ago, oversight of all the College’s facets will be meted out to two deans.

After the abrupt consolidation of the deanship a year ago, the administrative split is back.