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.
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