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Benedict H. Gross ’71 was officially named Dean of Harvard College yesterday—an appointment that was widely assumed, but not confirmed, for nearly a month.
As of July 1, Gross will assume the helm of the newly consolidated offices of the Dean for Undergraduate Education and Dean of the College.
On March 17, Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby announced plans to merge the offices following the forced resignation of current Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68.
Since that time, many College officials have been operating under the assumption that Gross would be their new boss.
Now, with the appointment official, Kirby painted Gross as the logical choice.
“As the person who is leading the first review of undergraduate education in nearly 30 years, Dick Gross will oversee and support the academic and extracurricular life of Harvard College students,” Kirby said in a press release. “He has emerged as a thoughtful and astute advocate for undergraduate education at Harvard.”
In Gross, colleagues said, Kirby has found a dean whose commitment to Harvard—and undergraduates—runs deep.
“Harvard has always been the great institutional love of his life,” said Joseph D. Harris, a friend of over 25 years and the chair of Gross’ mathematics department.
A former undergraduate and graduate student at Harvard, Gross taught at Princeton and Brown before receiving tenure at Harvard in 1985.
He was chair of mathematics from 1999 to 2002 and also served as its much celebrated director of undergraduate studies.
According to Harris, Gross worked closely to recruit the best and the brightest young mathematicians.
“He was really instrumental in developing the math program we have now, which is far and away the best in the world,” Harris said.
As chair, Gross impressed his colleagues with his expertise as a manager.
Assuming a rotating position in which all senior Faculty members in the department serve, Gross distinguished himself with his contagious enthusiasm for his job, colleagues said.
“He was a terrific manager and decisionmaker and really someone who cares,” said Senior Lecturer on Mathematics Daniel L. Goroff.
Gross’ visibility extended beyond his own department when he chaired the Quantitative Reasoning Subcommittee during the 1997 review of the Core curriculum. He also served on the Education Policy Committee, the Committee on the Study Out of Residence and the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid.
While Faculty universally applaud Gross’ service, some say he has yet to prove himself administratively.
“I have not seen him in administrative roles—he hasn’t had them,” said Professor of History of Science Everett I. Mendelsohn. “A good [department] chair can do things, but it is not a major administrative job.”
But Mendelsohn said that the skills can be learned, and Gross seems to be on a fast learning curve.
Gross said yesterday that he is looking forward to his new job.
“I am honored by the appointment,” he said. “It’s an amazing challenge, it’s a big job, but I am quite excited by it.”
But he admits that the next few months will not be easy.
“They key is to put in place an organization that continues our strong support of extracurricular life while continuing to go forward with the curricular review,” he said.
Though the details of how Gross will oversee House life, the Administrative Board and numerous other college committees while continuing to lead the curricular review have yet to be worked out, colleagues said they are confident he can keep all of the balls in the air.
“He is excited about the news, and knows what a huge amount of work this is. He would be insane to take it if he wasn’t really psyched,” Harris said.
But Harris says as long as Gross sticks close to his beginnings in the Science Center, all will be well.
“He must keep teaching—it is the one thing keeping him relatively sane.”
—Staff writer Jessica E. Vascellaro can be reached at email@example.com.
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