Students Call for an Accessible Dean

Transparency an issue as students are consulted in College dean search

The last time there was a College dean search, then-Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby drew criticism for consulting few students before he chose Benedict H. Gross ’71.

Now, in the search for Gross’s successor, Dean of the Faculty Michael D. Smith seems to be taking a more inclusive approach as he meets with an undergraduate advisory committee.

The 31-member undergraduate committee—made up of representatives appointed from each of the Houses, the freshman class, and the Undergraduate Council—spoke with Smith over dinner on Oct. 9 and is scheduled to meet with Smith again on Nov. 8.

Smith wrote in an e-mailed statement that he planned to use his conversations with the student committee for two purposes—to guide his interviews with decanal candidates and later to provide guidance to the new dean of the College upon his or her selection.

“I am particularly interested in the opportunities and challenges as [the students] see them facing the Dean of the College, and in the types of personal characteristics they see as important in the person that takes on the position,” Smith said.

Members of an eight-person faculty committee also advising the College dean search declined to comment on their involvement. But several students on the undergraduate committee said their conversations with Smith have centered around their desire for a transparent and accessible College dean’s office.

Brian S. Gillis ’08, a UC representative on the committee, said that the recent clash between the UC and the College administration over the council’s program that funds dorm room parties demonstrated the need for a “receptive to student voices.”

“I really feel that a House master would be extremely qualified because he understands what [interacting with students] would be like,” Gillis said. “We need someone who is wiling to work with student leaders.”

David R. Pilbeam, who has served as interim dean of the College since September, has said he is not a candidate in the search.

Sophia C. Sakellariadis ’11, one of the two freshmen on the undergraduate committee, said the committee’s conversation with Smith about the qualities most desirable in a dean expanded into a discussion about how to make the college transition easier for freshmen.

“There was a lot of talk about the accessibility of deans,” she said.

Nicole A. Buckley ’08, an Eliot House representative, said students also suggested to Smith that he consider candidates from outside the College because they would bring a fresh perspective to College issues. Buckley said Smith seemed “very receptive” to student comment, though she said she was unsure how much impact student suggestions would have in the end.

“It’s hard to tell how much is actually going to be incorporated—they’re running a business, we’re running a social life,” Buckley said. “But if students aren’t happy, it’s just going to cause more problems for [the administration] later.”

—Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached at balakris@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Brittney L. Moraski can be reached at bmoraski@fas.harvard.edu.—Staff writer Brittney L. Moraski can be reached at bmoraski@fas.harvard.edu.