George W. Bush and Tony Blair are working hard to convince the Iraqis that their new occupiers are not occupiers at all, but messengers of freedom. The leaders of the so-called free world are using newspapers and Saddam’s own television stations to spread the word—an attempt at communication that seems only appropriate after a major regime change.
Back in the Land of Sophistication, Harvard’s leaders disagree. They have launched no such campaign to convince us that the decision to obliterate the deanship of College life is a good one, or that creating a new deanship to cover both academic and non-academic life is in our best interests. There was no e-mail to students explaining the ditching of Dean Lewis, nor a Crimson op-ed clarifying why students should feel good about Dean Gross’ new very large job, when Dean Lewis spent eight years overworked with half that job. Aside from the press releases announcing that Lewis was canned and Gross was in, there has been no communication whatsoever with the student body at large.
At least we students aren’t the only ones out of the loop: the rest of the administration and Faculty were surprised, too. Lewis was given two weeks notice, a fact he serenely told the press with class; other deans and House masters expressed shock and surprise at his dismissal. The only person in the loop was Dean Gross, who The Crimson reported was offered the position by Dean Kirby in March, without the knowledge of the Faculty committee in charge of discussing the integration of the two deans’ duties.
In world governments, this is called tyranny. At private institutions of education, it’s called sketchy. At least Blair and Bush took the time to come up with fancy rhetoric, pretending to care about the involvement of the Iraqi people in their new government. Summers and Kirby don’t even pretend that students or faculty might be substantively involved in major structural administrative decisions.
The lack of explanation is particularly saddening over a dean so well-liked by students. Always amusingly blunt, I very much appreciated Dean Lewis’ habit of responding to my many Crimson-related e-mails (“Who’s in charge of ______?”) within 20 minutes, regardless of the hour in his 18-hour day. I am sure that the old and new Harvard regimes had an ugly clash behind closed doors (and thank you Dean Lewis for keeping it behind closed doors, unlike the shenanigans of a former professor soon to appear in The Matrix 2 as Counselor West), but that doesn’t excuse the unexplained firing of the dean most involved with students.
The implications of administrators who act without consulting the Faculty committee—which was created solely for the purpose of consultation on the new structure—are not positive. In one foul swoop, Summers and Kirby have ensured that future Faculty committees will look at them with distrust, a professional relationship of suspicion that benefits no one. Summers and Kirby have shown through their actions that they obviously do not care about the thoughts of Faculty and students, and have just set a precedent for constant skepticism from the entire undergraduate community.
More troubling, Summers and Kirby are remaking Harvard under some sort of Secret Agenda, presumably secret because they know we wouldn’t like it. We all understand that Summers and Kirby think that “Camp Harvard” needs to end, a fact they won’t admit, lest they be bombarded with student outcry on how important extracurricular activities are to student life. On the record, they sing the praises of the high quality of student activities like canaries on speed. But their Secret Agenda implies otherwise, as does their elimination of the dean in charge of student life. They’re not talking, and silence begs suspicion.
Summers has said from his early interviews with the Presidential Committee that he would like to focus on undergraduate education. That’s a dandy idea, as the quality of undergraduate teaching and that Core Curriculum from Hell could certainly use some attention—but not if his definition of focusing means neglecting, diminishing or decreasing student activities. He has not openly discussed any major shifts in student life, and we trusted him on his word. There is a reason that we didn’t go to MIT. Summers did, not us.
Dean Gross, your new position covers so much ground that student activities will almost inevitably be neglected. Please don’t forget that though your bosses think silence is an appropriate mode of operation, the students you are now in charge of do not. We would appreciate a memo to students as soon as possible. No one is amused by the shake up in administration with no explanation, which portends poorly for both the future administrative relations, and the quality of student life. Long live Camp Harvard. Now all we need is a PA system.
Arianne R. Cohen ’03 is an women’s studies concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.