Kirby Resigns as Dean of the Faculty

Dean was fired by Summers, sources close to the Corporation say

Crimson file photo

Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby announced his resignation tonight.

Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby said tonight that he would step down from his administrative post on June 30. The dean was fired by University President Lawrence H. Summers, according to two individuals who have discussed Kirby’s status with a member of the Harvard Corporation.

“The events of the past year have posed serious challenges,” Kirby wrote in a letter to the Faculty tonight. “Yet we have continued to focus on the essential business before us. As we look to the future, it will be important for the President and the Dean to work closely together, in collaboration with the Faculty, toward our common objectives.”

The president planned to fire Kirby last year, but the plan was put on hold amid the Faculty uproar over Summers’ own leadership, according to the two sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the University’s employment decisions are considered private.

Kirby’s resignation, while expected among some professors, leaves the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in limbo as the school contends with a growing budget deficit and a curricular review beset by criticism and delays.

In a letter to the Harvard community released tonight, Summers praised Kirby for guiding the Faculty “through what has been a not-uncomplicated time in the life of the University.” The president said a search for Kirby’s replacement would begin immediately.

Kirby’s tenure, which began in July 2002, has been dominated largely by the Harvard College Curricular Review. The review has been plagued by criticism that it lacks ground-breaking ideas and a strong guiding philosophy, and progress on the review stalled last year while the Faculty’s attention was occupied by debate over Summers.

But just one week ago, Kirby announced that the review was finally moving “to a term of formal discussion and decision” that will include Faculty votes on major changes to Harvard’s general-education and concentration requirements. Kirby said those votes were likely to occur this spring.

Another major focus of Kirby’s tenure has been the Faculty budget, which dipped into the red this fiscal year and is projected to post an annual deficit above $100 million by 2010. The Faculty is instituting a multi-faceted plan that includes decapitalizing the school's endowment in order to pay for the deficit.

Kirby says the deficit is a result of investing heavily in the growth of the Faculty and new facilities, such as the recently opened Center for Government and International Studies.

But the budget deficit and delays in the curricular review have frustrated Summers, according to the individuals who have spoken to a member of the Corporation about Kirby. Those concerns, along with their tenuous working relationship, led Summers to lose confidence in Kirby as much as two years ago, the sources said.

Summers initially served as an ex officio member of the curricular review’s Committee on General Education, which Kirby chaired, but the president ended his participation in the review after professors complained that Summers was exerting too much influence on their deliberations.

The Caucus of Chairs, a group of Faculty department chairs, have also criticized the relationship between Kirby and Summers, arguing that the dean and University Hall are not sufficiently independent from the president’s office in Massachusetts Hall, according to informal minutes of the group’s fall meetings.

Kirby wrote in his letter tonight that he would remain a member of the Faculty. He is the Geisinger professor of history, with a specialty in modern China. Kirby was chair of the history department from 1995 to 2000, and has also served as director of Harvard’s Asia Center.

His resignation after four years as dean makes his tenure the shortest of anyone to hold the position in recent decades. Both Jeremy R. Knowles and Henry Rosovsky, two of Kirby’s predecessors, served for just over 10 years each. Rosovsky was dean from 1973 to 1984, and Knowles was dean from 1991 to 2002.

They both announced their resignations early enough for replacements to be found before they stepped down. Rosovsky made his announcement more than a year in advance, and Knowles announced his decision on Feb. 11, 2002.

Another former dean of the Faculty, A. Michael Spence, surprised campus in late March 1990, when he announced he would resign in June of that year to become dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He had been dean of the Faculty for six years.

When Spence resigned, the short notice required administrators to bring Rosovsky back as interim dean for one year.

—Staff writer Evan H. Jacobs can be reached at ehjacobs@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Zachary M. Seward can be reached at seward@fas.harvard.edu.