Hard of Hearing?

After loss of top advisers, College dean looks for new ways to reach out to ambivalent students

Twice each week, on Monday afternoons and Thursday mornings, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds brings together five of her closest advisers for a policy pow-wow in her University Hall office.

These conversations, Hammonds wrote in an email, allow her to “discuss at a high level” issues that affect student life, like winter break programming and alcohol policy, with divisional heads of the College.

During the early years of her deanship, Hammonds’ Cabinet included her senior adviser, Paul J. McLoughlin II, and Dean of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson, who both were often praised for their direct engagement with undergraduates.

Now, four years into Hammonds’ tenure as dean of the College, her trusted Cabinet is in a state of flux.

After McLoughlin’s resignation last August and Nelson’s departure this June, Hammonds will have lost two of her foremost advocates for students.

Hammonds, who named “campus community” as one of her top priorities for the upcoming year, said that these personnel changes will not alter the way she runs the College.

“I feel very strongly that the students should feel that they have an ally in any member of the Harvard College staff,” Hammonds wrote.

But in an administration where McLoughlin and Nelson formerly had the most direct contact with students, Hammonds may be forced to take on a more visible role on campus to replace them.

“Dean Hammonds is going to have to up her own ante in terms of interacting with students, now that she’s lost her longtime right-hand man and right-hand woman.” said former Undergraduate Council President Senan Ebrahim ’12. “It’s just a question of how she’s going to do it, not whether she’s going to do it, given her priorities and her commitment to student voice in College affairs.”

Members of her inner circle suggest she is up to the task. In Cabinet meetings, Associate Dean of the College Joan Rouse said, Hammonds is “a great listener”—a quality, administrators say, that serves Hammonds well in her interactions with students.

But though Hammonds has said she is committed to improving student life, the task may be complicated by the fact that she is trying to listen to a demographic that is not even showing up to be listened to.

A LEARNING CURVE

When Hammonds began her tenure as the first female dean of the College in 2008, she arrived with little knowledge of Harvard’s undergraduate culture.

As a professor, Hammonds had worked primarily with graduate students. Unlike three of her recent predecessors, she did not attend the College.

When she was named to the deanship, Hammonds told The Crimson that she was still familiarizing herself with the details of Administrative Board reform and the College’s alcohol policy, prominent issues of the time.

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