Undergraduates and University administrators live in very separate worlds. Few Harvard students ever experience the inner workings of University Hall, and correspondingly, Deans of the College have tended to pass their time in offices in relative serenity, unperturbed by the hustle and flow of student life.
Benedict H. Gross ’71, who left the deanship this summer, was different. A quiet advocate for undergraduates in the face of occasionally fearsome resistance from fellow administrators, Gross spent his five years at the helm assembling an impressive legacy. Beyond the physical monuments to his tenacity—the Cambridge Queen’s Head pub, the Lamont Library Café, the Student Organizations Center at Hilles, and the New College Theater—Gross presided over the most productive half-decade of curricular change in recent years.
Many fault Gross’ occasionally lackluster leadership for the sluggishness of the Harvard College Curricular Review and for the underwhelming new General Education curriculum that it produced. But his tenure nevertheless produced a stunning renaissance in undergraduate advising, including the first comprehensive, fully-funded peer advising program in the College’s history. The Classes of 2010 and 2011 have Gross to thank for the delay in concentration choice and for the College’s formal recognition of secondary fields.
Gross occasionally came under fire for the apparently affected frivolity that he injected into the administration’s priorities. Camp Harvard, the Harvard Carnival, the Harvard State Fair, Yardfest, and other sundry circuses threw open the doors of University Hall—quite literally—to undergraduates, while a new College Events Board was furnished with a $200,000 programming budget. Derisive comments from predecessors and talking heads aside, the initiatives have been well-received. Their success has prompted alumni to give generously and, in many cases, directly to the College through the new Dean’s Fund for Undergraduate Life, created by Gross to target fundraising at undergraduates. Undergraduates are generally happier now than they were when Gross became dean; at Harvard College, that’s no mean feat.
—Adam Goldenberg ’08, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. He is Chair of the College Events Board and served on the Student Advisory Board to the Advising Programs Office, which designed the Peer Advising Fellows program.
A CHAOTIC TERM
Dean Benedict H. Gross ’71 was and has remained a fantastic adviser and professor during his time as dean. There is no question that he sincerely cares about the students at the College and has always gone out of his way to help those in need. But though we should recognize these qualities, the discontent of those who left his administration and the hush-hush manner in which their feelings have been expressed call into question the effectiveness of his tenure.
The departure of Patricia O’Brien, former deputy dean of the College, from University Hall in 2006 remains a mystery, particularly when she was so popular among students. Supposedly she left to take an indefinite “personal leave of absence”; however, many speculate that she was forced out in what Eliot House Co-Master Lino Pertile said was an “absolutely sudden” departure. And even when Gross had the opportunity to give O’Brien credit for all she has done for the College—like taking a crucial role in setting up the Dean’s Fund for Undergraduate Life—he has repeatedly not done so.
And despite coming from the side of undergraduate education, Gross also was not the advocate for student life that many hoped he would become. While the Dean’s Fund for Undergraduate Life was used to bankroll many important student initiatives such as the Lamont Café and the Cambridge Queen’s Head, the push for and oversight of many of these projects came from others in the administration. While the primary obstacle doubtlessly was the difficulty of accessing the necessary funds, Gross could have taken a more active role as an advocate for these projects, rather than sometimes being seen as the roadblock to them.
Gross will be missed in University Hall, but a tenure in which many members of his administration raised serious concerns upon their departure from it raises questions as to the competency of the leader in charge.
—Reva P. Minkoff ’08, a Crimson editorial editor and former Crimson staff director, is a government concentrator in Pforzheimer House. She served on the January Term Curricular Review Committee and has managed the Cambridge Queen’s Head pub.