Freshman Dean Forced To Leave Post

After 12 years at helm, Nathans set to depart Harvard at year's end

Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth Studley Nathans has been forced from her post overseeing first-year life at the College and will leave office at the end of the year, several sources close to Nathans said.

Her departure, confirmed yesterday by University Hall, marks the end of an era for the Freshman Dean’s Office (FDO), which Nathans has headed for 12 years and will now be due for changes under Harvard’s ongoing curricular review.

Three professors and a former Nathans colleague confirmed that she is not leaving the office of her own accord. Nathans has been critical in the past of the review’s recommendations for changing first-year advising and the structure and responsibilities of the FDO. The top administrators in University Hall, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, have endorsed many of these proposals.

In response to a request for comment about Nathans’ departure by The Crimson, Gross issued a statement yesterday saying that Nathans would “conclude her service” as dean of freshmen at the end of the academic year.

Nathans declined comment for this story last week and could not be reached again yesterday. At yesterday’s opening exercises for first-years, the outgoing dean did not make her customary speech alongside Gross and Kirby.

Her ouster will likely be accompanied by other structural changes within the FDO in accordance with last spring’s curricular review report, which recommends an overhaul of undergraduate advising that would shift pre-concentration advising away from first-year proctors and the FDO. First-years may be paired with upperclass Houses upon their arrival, or be expected to seek academic advice from professionals at an advising center. None of the reports’ proposals have been put to vote by the Faculty.

Robert Doyle, director of Instructional Media Services for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, who has worked with Nathans as a freshman adviser, said that Nathans told him last winter that she had been told she would have to leave. “My understanding is that at the end of the academic year she will be gone,” Doyle said. “But I don’t know the reason.”

The three professors who also said Nathans was leaving involuntarily asked to remain anonymous.

In an interview last March, Nathans said she was concerned that the recommendations in the curricular review report would hurt rather than help first-years.

Nathans—who has earned the reputation as a hard-nosed administrator with a firm hand over the FDO—is opposed to a move that would shift responsibility for first-year life toward the Houses, away from the Yard and the FDO building at 6 Garden St.

“When the Houses feel they can devote 60 to 80 hours a week to freshmen, perhaps,” Nathans said then. “Senior Tutors work to a large extent in isolation...I’m not sure how one would add 100 or more students to their load.”

Nathans said in March that nobody at her office had been “consulted” by curricular review committees, which were at the time wrapping up the first phase of the review.

This was a characterization that Gross and Associate Dean of the College Jeffrey Wolcowitz, who was overseeing the review, disputed at the time.

This is the second major shake-up at the top echelons of the College administrations in two years. Last summer, Gross took over from former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, who was ousted after clashing with Kirby and University President Lawrence H. Summers.

University Hall also described the departure of Lewis—a Nathans ally—by writing in a press release that Lewis would “conclude his service” as dean in June 2003.

Nathans, who holds a doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins, has been at the helm of the FDO since 1992, when she came to Harvard from Duke University. Nathans also chairs the Board of Freshman Advisers and the Harvard College-University Health Services Committee.