Harris Appointed Dean of Undergraduate Education

Jay M. Harris, professor of Jewish studies and chair of the General Education committee, was named the College's dean of undergraduate education, the University announced last Friday. 

In this capacity, Harris will work with Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds in overseeing all matters relating to the undergraduate curriculum.

In addition to continuing his stewardship of the new General Education program, Harris will also preside over the Freshman Seminars program, the Office of International Programs, the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, the Harvard Writing Program, and the Advising Programs Office.   

The newly created position will place Harris, a student favorite for the dean of the College selection earlier this year, beneath Hammonds within the College’s hierarchy. Hammonds took office on June 1.

Though Harris’ title has been used as recently as 2003, his position within the College is new.

Between 1972 and 2003, the College was under the leadership of both a dean of the College and a dean of undergraduate education.  

The former was responsible for “the academic progress of individual students toward their degrees, as well as for non-curricular aspects of their educational growth and development,” according to a 1994 report on the structure of the College by former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, a computer science professor.  

The dean of undergraduate education did not oversee the Core Curriculum but was responsible for many of the academic issues Harris will take care of. Both individuals reported directly to the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“The Dean of the College is a position that’s too big for one person…it used to be divided, but it divided the College,” Harris said. “It’s important that this position be within the College.”  

Former Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby consolidated the two deanships in 2003, ousting Lewis from his position as then-dean of undergraduate education Benedict H. Gross ’71 took the helm of the College. Kirby wrote in an e-mail that there was a “near-total separation of responsibilities regarding curriculum and the broader realm of undergraduate life” in the old structure. 

“I wanted a unified reporting under a strong Dean of Harvard College, who would make sure that undergraduate education and student life would be absolutely central to the agendas of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences,” he wrote, adding that the new structure falls in line with this goal.  

Kirby said that Harris is a “great choice” for the position, owing to a wide range of experience in dealing with academic and student affairs as the chair of the Gen Ed committee, the Master of Cabot House, and a tenured professor.

In the 1994 report, Lewis noted that since 1947, only one Dean of the College (Ernest May) had been a member of the Harvard teaching faculty. The report notes that the Dean of Undergraduate Education position, held by a member of the Faculty in all cases, was created “around the end of the term of the last faculty Dean of Harvard College,” by no “accident.” 

Though Hammonds is tenured in both the History of Science and African and African American Studies departments, she comes to the College's top post from the University's central administration, while Harris, like those who previously took served as dean of undergraduate education, has been praised for his role within the Faculty.   

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