Harvard College Consolidates Offices for Student Life, Cuts 5 Staff Positions

Smaller Office of Student Life created from merger of offices for student activities, residential life

The College's Office of Residential Life and Office of Student Life and Activities will be combined into a single office this upcoming academic year, Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds announced Thursday—a move she said would "streamline support for our undergraduates" but also cut costs and downsize the offices by five full-time staffers.

The newly-established Office of Student Life, which will be headed by former Associate Dean of Residential Life Suzy M. Nelson, will oversee matters relating to residential life, housing, student activities, The Student Organization Center at Hilles, The Cambridge Queen's Head Pub, The Harvard College Women's Center, public service initiatives, and The Harvard Foundation, according to an announcement e-mailed by Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman Robert P. Mitchell.

The restructuring comes after three high-level College deans announced their departures this past year: Dean of Student Life Judith H. Kidd, Associate Dean of Advising Programs Monique Rinere, and Dean for Administration and Finance Georgene B. Herschbach. In her announcement, Hammonds said that the office merger was the "most effective way to leverage the expertise of our College staff members” and would help "eliminate redundancy" as well.

Mitchell said on Friday that he could not discuss personnel issues, including the specific roles of the five departing staffers or the total number of positions in either office, due to privacy concerns. A total of 13 staff members are currently listed on ORL and OSLA's Web sites, however, suggesting that the consolidation will eliminate a substantial percentage of positions devoted to student activities and residential life.

Hammonds wrote in an e-mailed statement Friday that the office shuffling was prompted neither by budgetary pressures nor a need to trim excess services and staff, but rather represented the culmination of a review process of the College's organization that she initiated last spring when appointed Dean. She said the departure of the three deans accelerated that process.

"The departures of these important staff allowed me to think holistically about how the student activities and residential life units were organized. I came to the conclusion that there was a lot to be gained by merging these two offices," Hammonds wrote. "The merger also has the added benefit of reducing inefficiencies in running two separate offices, and saving some funds—but saving funds was not the driver of the decision."

Mitchell declined to say how much money is being saved through the restructuring.

Many of the deans and staffers in ORL and OSLA were out of the office or on vacation Friday and could not be reached for comment about the restructuring. Hammonds said that "the responsibilities, programming, and services" provided by the previously separate offices should not change in any way because of the merger.

"I have worked with student organizations and activities on other campuses, and believe that students' out-of-class experiences engender creativity, fellowship, and 'learning by doing,'" wrote Nelson in an e-mailed statement on Friday. Hammonds, who emphasized that Nelson had extensive experience with both residential life and student activities, noted that Nelson had previously worked at Cornell and Syracuse Universities.

The exodus of deans has raised questions in recent months about how the College intends to preserve the years of administrative experience accumulated by the three departing officials. Herschbach, an almost 30-year veteran of Harvard as well as a specialist in budgetary matters, served as a House Master, FAS Registrar, and administrator for the College while expanding its undergraduate academic offerings. Rinere helped revamp the College's advising system as its first associate dean of advising programs, creating the Peer Advising Fellows program, the Advising Fortnight, the sophomore advising program, and the online advising portal. And Kidd oversaw the opening of the Pub and the Harvard College Women's Center during her six years as associate dean.

Kidd and Herschbach both took buyouts in the University's voluntary early retirement incentive program, and Rinere is leaving for Columbia, where she will become dean of advising and associate dean of student affairs. Hammonds said that a search has begun for Herschbach's replacement, though Herschbach has agreed to work with the College through the fall term.

Hammonds also announced Thursday that Joshua McIntosh, assistant deal of ORL, has been named associate dean for student life, and Assistant Dean and Director of Student Activities David Friedrich and Director of the Women's Center Susan Marine have both been appointed assistant deans for student life. Due to Rinere's departure, Assistant Dean Inge-Lise Ameer will serve as Interim Director of the Advising Program Office, Hammonds said, noting that the advising office remains part of the Office of Undergraduate Education.

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.