Kirby Said To Step Down as Dean of the Faculty

Dean was fired by Summers, according to two sources close to the Corporation

Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby has tendered his resignation and will step down from his administrative post on June 30, according to two individuals who have discussed Kirby’s status with a member of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s top governing board.

The Corporation member told the two sources this month that Kirby has been fired by University President Lawrence H. Summers. The president planned to fire Kirby last year, but the plan was put on hold amid the Faculty uproar over Summers’ own leadership, the sources said.

Kirby’s resignation, while expected among some professors, would leave 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.

Robert Mitchell, a spokesman for Kirby, said the dean was in New York for a meeting today and could not be reached for comment. Summers is in Davos, Switzerland for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. John Longbrake, a spokesman for the president, said, “I won’t comment on rumors.”

Kirby will announce his resignation himself, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the University’s employment decisions are considered private.

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 expected to post an annual deficit above $100 million by 2010.

Kirby says that the deficit is prudent, as he has invested heavily in growing the Faculty and building 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.

There were no indications that Kirby will leave the Faculty altogether. 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 would make 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.