Search That Ended At Hammonds Was Long, Deliberative

In the days before Evelynn M. Hammonds became the first female dean of the College, the man charged with appointing her gave up guessing when his decision would come.

“We are moving forward [with the dean search]” said Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences (FAS). “I will stop giving you an estimation, because I’m apparently not very good at it.”

Smith’s inability to predict when the search would be complete raised some questions outside of University Hall as to whether he was having difficulty finding interested candidates.

In late January, the faculty’s top administrator told The Crimson that his goal was to find a new dean of the College in February, only to miss the mark.

Some months earlier, he had stated that the search was “a couple of weeks” behind the one for the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). Allan M. Brandt was appointed GSAS dean in December.

But Smith said yesterday that the search’s duration was simply the result of normal deliberation and that Hammonds, who he said was the first person he had asked to take the deanship, was quick to accept the position.

“When I asked her, the answer was, ‘Absolutely,’” Smith said. He made the trip in person to Hammonds’ office to offer her the job.

Smith, who took office only a few weeks after former Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 announced his intention to step down, said the prolonged search could be explained partly by the breadth of advice he solicited early in the process.

“I was talking to groups of individuals not only to find out who would make a good College dean, but what were the qualities and what were the issues that we should most be thinking about,” he said. “I hadn’t been in my position that long, and so it was instructive for me to learn that, as well as it being useful in the search process.”

Nancy L. Rosenblum, Government department chair and member of the committee that advised Smith on his selection of the new dean, said that the advisory committee had delivered its final input to Smith last semester, ending its formal involvement in the process.

But she could not further explain why the search had lasted eight months.

“I can say that Mike is very thoughtful and was not going to be rushed into a decision,” Rosenblum said. “What the circumstances were that made this a more protracted decision, I don’t know. But what’s important is not how long it took but rather the quality of the outcome.”

The decision is a light at the end of the tunnel for acting Dean of the College David R. Pilbeam, who told The Crimson earlier this winter how “content, relaxed, and happy” his predecessor Gross looks, months after being relieved of the burdens of the office.

Pilbeam, who has held the position in an interim capacity since September and will stay on until the end of May, instructed his assistant yesterday to offer up only a single word on his behalf: “thrilled.”

—Staff writer Christian B. Flow can be reached at cflow@fas.harvard.edu.