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When Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures William M. Todd III was appointed as dean of undergraduate education this March, the announcement not only surprised many observers, but also Todd himself.
Todd said the selection came "not somewhat, but totally as a surprise."
"[Dean of the Faculty] Jeremy [R. Knowles] had asked to have breakfast with me," Todd recalled. "I thought he was going to fire me as chair [of the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department]."
Instead, Todd will begin a three-year term as dean of undergraduate education in July 1997.
Because Todd will be on sabbatical next year, Ford Professor of the Social Sciences David Pilbeam will return to the post for the 1996-97 academic year. Pilbeam preceded current Dean Lawrence Buell in that position, occupying the deanship from 1987 to 1992.
Todd is a relative stranger to many members of the administration. In fact, Pilbeam and Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 admitted the week of Todd's selection that they did not know him at all; and that condition appears to have been mutual.
"I have not yet met Dean Lewis," Todd said at the time. "I look forward to meeting him and working with him."
But those who know Todd said he will do an excellent job as dean.
"He is a very thoughtful, patient teacher," said Baird Professor of Physics Gary J. Feldman, who has known Todd since they served together on Stanford's faculty. "I'm sure he would do a very good job."
Knowles, who personally selected Todd and Pilbeam without the aid of a search committee, spoke highly of both of them.
"I chose Professors Pilbeam and Todd [because they are] thoughtful members of the faculty whom I knew were committed to the quality of undergraduate education in the College," Knowles said.
Although Todd served on the Faculty Senate and Curriculum Development committees at Stanford, his experience in faculty committees at Harvard has been limited.
Todd is currently a member of the Board of Syndics of Harvard University Press. He served on the Faculty Council in the 1990-91 academic year as a substitute for a professor on leave.
But many faculty members said they believed Todd's relative inexperience should not be a factor in his performance as dean.
"I don't think it's particularly unusual or problematic in any way," said Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz.
"I think Larry Buell was unusual in the experience he brought to the position," Wolcowitz added.
Todd acknowledged that his administrative experience is limited on paper, but said he gained a unique perspective on undergraduate education by watching his daughter progress through the College. (She graduated last year.)
"I'm not sure how qualified I am for the deanship in the first place, but I think that experience [as a father] was invaluable," Todd said.
According to Todd, as dean of undergraduate education, he would like to focus on the issues of class and section size and the relationship that undergraduates have with faculty members. He added he wanted to work with the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning to ensure that teaching fellows are well prepared and wanted to maintain a high percentage of seniors pursuing theses or senior projects.
On the topic of ethnic studies, Todd appears to share many of the same hesitant views as other administrators.
"On one hand I teach in a department of an ethnic studies field, so I am not unsympathetic to [the movement]," Todd said.
"But I would like to see whether we are not unable to do [what the supporters of ethnic studies would like] within our current departmental structure," he added.
Former Dean Returns
Decidedly fewer questions surrounded Pilbeam's selection as dean of undergraduate education for the 1996-97 school year.
"He will be an outstanding dean once again," Harry Lewis said.
"I know Professor Pilbeam is interested in many of the same concerns that Dean Buell has pursued," said Susan W. Lewis, director of the Core Program.
Although it has been four years since Pilbeam served as dean, many faculty members said he should have no problem adjusting to the issues he will face in the fall.
"He has been on the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) [all] along, so he's very up on the issues the office would have to wrestle with," Buell said.
Some faculty members speculated that Pilbeam would advance the issue of ethnic studies as dean.
"I think [he will be] predisposed to see [ethnic studies] as a priority," Buell said.
Pilbeam previously served on the EPC's subcommittee on ethnic studies and has expressed on numerous occasions his support for an interdisciplinary American studies program which would include a focus on ethnicity.
But Pilbeam disputed the notion that he would press the ethnic studies issue.
"I have no plans to discuss the issue as dean," Pilbeam said.
Regardless, most faculty members said they expect Pilbeam to make the most of the next year.
"I don't think he will simply be a caretaker," Wolcowitz said.
"You can count on Pilbeam to take an active interest," Susan Lewis added.
Pilbeam will step down as director of the Peabody Museum when he assume the deanship in July.
As museum director, Pilbeam is leading a million dollar project to comply with the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which requires museums to identify and possibly return all human remains and many types of burial artifacts to the Native American tribes with which they originated.
"My being dean will have no impact on the Peabody's NAGPRA activities, nor with its compliance with the legislation," Pilbeam said.
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