Constructing the Deanship: One Man's Job

College restructuring signals focus on academics

Brian M. Haas

INCOMING: Dean of Harvard College Benedict H. Gross ’71.

On the northern side of University Hall, a vestibule separates the offices of Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 and Dean of Undergraduate Education Benedict H. Gross ’71.

The quiet hallway survived a recent $10 million renovation that updated the administrative offices and added handicapped access to the building.

But a new construction project is underway in University Hall: one that will be marked not by the din of jackhammers and lifts, but by the exit of a dean and the extinction of a deanship.

And now, the anteroom is at the center of the work, which aims to bridge a rift symbolized by the entrance hall at the northern end of the College’s administrative building.

The overhaul began this March when Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby fired Lewis from the position he has held for eight years and announced the consolidation of Lewis’ and Gross’ offices.



University Hall

University Hall

Shortly thereafter, Kirby tapped Gross—a mathematics professor who had assumed the undergraduate education deanship only at the beginning of this year—to fill the new post.

Kirby and University President Lawrence H. Summers initiated the move to displace Lewis, who had often opposed their agenda for reshaping the undergraduate experience at Harvard, several sources inside and outside University Hall say.

But Kirby and Gross point out that the idea to combine the deanships has been proposed before—by Lewis himself—as a way to eliminate an artificial division of control over the academic and extracurricular aspects of students’ lives.

The restructuring has suddenly left Gross with a Herculean set of responsibilities. He has been put in charge of not only the academic dimension of the College, but also the non-academic matters of undergraduate life that Lewis has handled. In this new capacity, he will oversee both larger issues that face the College, like curricular review and vanishing social space, and the more mundane details of House life and extracurriculars.

While many express hope that Gross will be able to manage the new post, the abrupt and unilateral decision has left the College with a new type of administration: a centralized bureaucracy focused on the academic aspects of undergraduate life.

And some worry the College has embarked upon this ambitious project without a plan.

The Blueprint

Though the decision to oust Lewis and terminate his deanship may have seemed sudden, the idea of restructuring is hardly novel.

The impetus behind a single dean structure can be traced back to 1994, when then-Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles launched an evaluation of the performance of the College administration.

Lewis—then a professor—joined Executive Dean of the Faculty Nancy L. Maull and co-chaired a committee to review the College bureaucracy which ultimately produced the comprehensive “Report on the Structure of Harvard College,” known more commonly as the “Lewis-Maull Report.”