Lawrence Buell Eases Into New Deanship

English Scholar Makes Plans to Examine Quality, Requirements of Undergraduate Education at Harvard

But Pierce suggests that such shifts might be easier to effect at a small place like Oberlin than at a large university like Harvard. The result could be a challenge for his long-time colleague.

"Harvard's a very old institution," says Pierce, who did graduate work at the University. "I suspect it'd be a hard institution to move, so he may find that frustrating."

Oberlin is more radical, less stagnant and more liberal, Pierce notes. "Oberlin has always been a politically and ethically progressive institution. Harvard has been more in the center of American intellectual life."

Buell says Harvard may indeed be more difficult to manage than small, intimate Oberlin. Pierce says Harvard faculty members, for example, are more territorial than their Ohio counterparts.

At Oberlin, Buell says, "I feel I got a paninstitutional sense of how the undergraduate program and undergraduate life function. I think that's harder to do here at Harvard."


Buell compares Harvard to an octopus. "It's easy to spend almost all your time in one tentacle," he says.

Buell says there are some similarities between the two very different schools. The educational mission of Harvard's house system, for example reminds him of Oberlin's Experimental College, where students, faculty and members of the community can arrange to develop and offer courses outside the regular curriculum.

More house seminars, Buell suggests, cold enhance the Harvard undergraduate experience.

Beyond such ideas, however, Buell doesn't have any specific changes in mind--at least not yet. For now, he says, he's learning. And thinking. And planning--but not too specifically.

"I don't have a blueprint for radical change," he explains. "That would be, I think, unwise."

Instead, Buell says he will build on many of his predecessor's initiatives.

David Pilbeam, Ford professor of the social sciences, is cutting his term as associate dean for under graduate education short, worn down by the weight of two administrative posts. Pilbeam was beginning his second three-year term two years ago when he was appointed director of the Peabody Museum.

It was a busy five-year tenure, the anthropology professor recalls. In the end, Pilbeam says, he managed to change the nature of the deanship, making it more administrative and less advisory.

Pilbeam says the associate dean for undergraduate education's primary role is to help the dean of the Faculty identify the key issues facing undergraduate education.

Some of Pilbeam's colleagues describe him as an "activist dean." Indeed, the anthropologist says he spent much of his deanship meeting with people, nagging fellow faculty members and, above all, sticking to his goals.