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Soon-to-be-confirmed Dean of Harvard College Benedict H. Gross ’71 may have stumbled into a bigger job than he wants.
This fall, Gross took on the title of Dean of Undergraduate Education and its mandate to oversee the upcoming curricular review. A week ago, however, he accepted an offer from Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby to add running the College to his list of responsibilities. How he will balance these two domains remains a mystery to the dean—one he likely pondered over the at least two weeks he took to consider Kirby’s offer.
Presently, Kirby has appointed a committee, headed by Executive Dean of the Faculty Nancy L. Maull, to investigate how to best divide these responsibilities.
While awaiting the committee’s recommendations, Gross said that he is pushing for a structure will allow him to focus on his main interest—the curricular review.
“The point of reorganization is to have enough qualified people in place so I can keep [curricular review] a priority,” he said.
And colleagues confirm that Gross’ loyalty lies with the curricular review.
“It is quite clear that Dick Gross is quite committed to performing the idea of solid curricular review,” said Assistant Professor of Computer Science Michael D. Mitzenmacher. “Clearly his focus will be on the curricular.”
But as things stand now, Gross has taken on a lengthy list of non-academic responsibilities currently overseen by Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68.
These include chairing the Administrative Board, House masters meetings, the Committees on House and College Life and 26 other Faculty committees overseeing advising, fellowships, dramatics, public service, athletics and information technology.
According to a University official, details of the integration of the two offices have been considered haphazardly.
“Because it happened more suddenly than it needed to, the plans for reorganization and a successor were not well developed,” the official said.
Gross himself said he did not foresee this restructuring last semester when he began organizing the committees that will oversee the curricular review.
But while Gross and other administrators were surprised by this appointment, Kirby said in an interview Friday that he had been considering Gross’ qualifications for an expanded deanship since the summer.
“Every dean, in assuming office, has looked to see how the structure might be changed. It was on my mind as I was searching for a dean for undergraduate education,” he said.
Kirby’s plans for restructuring—while unknown to Gross—were not new. A proposed model of consolidating these roles was presented in a report co-authored by Lewis in 1994.
Former Dean for Undergraduate Education Susan G. Pedersen ’81-’82 said that though never realized, the plan survived in spirit.
“In any functioning but flexible bureaucracy run by intelligent people there will be some reflective discussion of how the administration is organized and whether it could be organized differently or better,” she said. “I don’t know how much consideration of various models there was [last year].”
But Pedersen said that the model of having a separate dean for undergraduate education prevailed, with one of its strengths being that the appointment was only three years long and allowed the dean to continue teaching and research.
“Most faculty members interested in taking responsibility for curricular questions would want to do a job like this only for a limited amount of time—it is because they like to teach that they find the job interesting,” she said.
While Gross attempts to reconcile his loyalty to the curricular review with a host of new responsibilities, Kirby promised further overhaul in the administrative structure of the College and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).
“This is only one part of the broader reorganization of FAS, in particular the investigation of the appointment of divisional deans with the search for the Dean for Life Sciences already underway,” he said.
Kirby was referring to his plans to appoint new academic administrators to oversee each of the three academic areas—the Humanities, the Social Sciences and the Life Sciences—before the curricular review gets well underway next year. The Engineering Sciences are already grouped together under the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
But while he delegates responsibilities to new administrators to deal with academic matters, Kirby said that he will not shortchange the non-academic services offered by the College.
“If need be we won’t hesitate to bring in others to expand the capacities of the office to serve the needs of students,” he said. “It is not on my mind to reign in [their] creative talents.”
Pending the governing board’s official approval of Gross’ appointment more details of the restructuring of the College administration will likely be revealed today.
—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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