Often described as a puzzling and ineffective bureaucratic machine, Harvard’s Office of Student Life has the potential to greatly benefit from the recent appointment of Stephen Lassonde as its dean. Lassonde's extensive experience as a superintendent and advocate of student residential life positions him well to reshape the OSL into a friendlier institution and more strongly support the activities of undergraduate student organizations.
Designed to serve as the focal point of extracurricular life at the College and an important source of guidance for Harvard’s more than 400 extracurricular organiations, the OSL has not yet measured up to its promise. A number of weak points in the way student life is conducted at Harvard could stand for substantial reform. The lack of an intuitive application process for student organization grants, an excessively tight regulation of undergraduate activities, as well as the current processes of annual re-registration and room booking that student groups undergo have been described as cumbersome and contribute to the unfriendly and counterproductive image that the OSL holds.
Dean of Calhoun College at Yale and later Deputy Dean of the College at Brown, Lassonde brings to Harvard the experience of a seasoned, well-versed administrator. At Brown, Lassonde garnered a reputation as an accessible and unpretentious advisor, despite his high rank in the university’s hierarchy. Throughout his tenure, he maintained regular office hours open to all students, and self-reportedly tried to make himself a “resource for students” rather than a distant executive. Moreover, Lassonde made efforts to expand the office hours of all university deans—an endeavor that he hoped would herald ever more lively and regular communication between students and administrators.
Furthermore, Lassonde has had experience overseeing disciplinary proceedings and matters of academic integrity, having served on the Committee on Academic Integrity at Yale and the Committee on Academic Standing at Brown. This is especially relevant at Harvard in the wake of the Government 1310 cheating scandal. As Dean of Student Life, Lassonde will hopefully be able to serve as an effective point of reference for the students who were asked to withdraw from the College as they resume their studies.
Lassonde has clearly learned the right lessons from his time at Brown, telling the Brown Daily Herald that “[h]aving conversations with students [made] a difference” during his time there. Building upon the work of former Dean of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson and upon his background, Lassonde could conceivably steer the OSL in a direction that is friendlier to students. While most of the interactions that Harvard undergraduates have with the office are currently burdensome or unpleasant, we hope that its new leadership will make for an improved Office of Student Life at Harvard.