College Turnover Troubles Profs

New staff bring ‘fresh ideas,’ but some faculty miss familiar faces

In his three years at the helm, Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 has overseen a dramatic reorganization of the College administration that has left one longtime professor saying, “I hardly know anyone in University Hall nowadays.”

Nine of the 10 members of Gross’s senior staff took their current posts after Gross took charge of Harvard’s undergraduate branch, and at least seven senior College administrators have either quit or been forced to leave during his tenure.

Gross, his staff, and top Harvard officials say that bringing fresh faces into University Hall has helped reinvigorate the College—which ranked near the bottom of a 2002 student-satisfaction survey the year before Gross took office. But several professors and former administrators contend that the high level of turnover has eroded institutional memory and may be hindering cooperation between the administration and the Faculty.

Classics Department Chair and Faculty Council member Richard F. Thomas says he is troubled by how the administrative restructuring might affect the undergraduate experience.

“If this pattern of departures and arrivals continues, I think we’re going to find a college that’s very different and far inferior to the one we had before,” Thomas said in an interview after Associate Dean of Freshmen Rory A. W. Browne announced his decision to leave the College last week.

Gross counters that “bringing in people from other institutions and on the Faculty brings in a wealth of new ideas to the College.”

“I think we have plenty of faculty and administrators who have been around for a long time and provide institutional memory,” Gross wrote in an e-mail.

Newly hired Associate Dean for Advising Monique Rinere echoed that she does not think that the College risks losing institutional memory.

“There are quite a few people in the administration who have been here for many, many years, and they are consulted often,” she wrote. “And the new people have a great deal of respect for the history and traditions of the institution.”

Outgoing Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, who appointed Gross, and outgoing University President Lawrence H. Summers both support Gross’s efforts to restructure the College.

“[Gross] has searched for talent wherever it lies,” Kirby wrote in an e-mail. “What he has set in motion in a very short period of time will have an impact on the College for years and years to come.”

Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes, who teaches a class on Harvard’s history, says that he believes that faculty members should have been consulted more widely before the administrative overhaul was undertaken.

“It amazes me that this whole level of ‘deaning’ has been created out of nothing,” Gomes says. “I hardly know anyone in University Hall nowadays.”

Gross responds that, while he makes efforts to reach out to professors, “consultation does not always imply agreement. But it’s good to be aware of the issues in the debate.”

Professor of Biological Anthropology Daniel E. Lieberman ’86, who helped form the new interdisciplinary life science courses in conjunction with the College, says that professors are growing increasingly concerned about the high number of departures.

“I have noticed in the last few years that many of the ‘servants of the College’ have disappeared,” Lieberman says. “I think the Faculty do notice that, and I would say that there is a widespread concern among the Faculty.”

But Lieberman adds that many members of the Faculty are not especially attuned to the business of the College, since professors tend to focus on teaching and research.


Some professors and former administrators say that a change in the working atmosphere inside University Hall has accompanied the change in personnel.

Elizabeth Doherty, a former associate dean who left for Brown early last year, told The Crimson in an e-mail last month that she saw a “growing describe education as a ‘product’ in the College”—a trend that she called “antithetical to the central values of an academic community.”

But Gross wrote in an e-mail that he thinks the new administrative structure fosters communication.

“I think the offices of the College have actually become more collaborative in the past two years,” Gross wrote. “I have always encouraged staff to share their concerns.”

Eight professors and former administrators who spoke with The Crimson, however, say they have heard claims that the new administration has taken on a “corporate” tone.

Gomes says that, within the College administration, “there’s a sense of intimidation, a sense of anxiety—a watch-your-back feeling.”

“I’ve heard from a number of people that University Hall now has the worst of a corporate culture,” he says.

But many of Gross’s senior staff dispute that sentiment.

“People are using the word ‘corporate’ without any real meaning,” says Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd, who notes that she has worked in the “corporate world” before.

Rinere, the advising dean, wrote in an e-mail that “the atmosphere of the administration is collegial and collaborative.”

“Have you ever been in a corporate environment? I have, and this doesn’t resemble that in any way, shape or form,” she explained.

And, in an e-mail, Gross wrote: “I’ve been called a number of things, but ‘corporate’ is not a description that comes to mind!”

Gross, who rarely wears a tie to the office, added: “For one thing, I would need a new wardrobe.”


The staffing changes in University Hall began in March 2003, when Kirby consolidated the academic and social sides of the College—once divided between the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education and the Office of the Dean of the College. The move also forced Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 from his post, and Kirby tapped Gross, then dean for undergraduate education, to lead the newly merged administration.

Kidd says that the turnover within the College is not “surprising,” given the major administrative restructuring.

“When you start to merge functions, you start to have new needs,” she says. “I don’t denigrate the fact that change is often difficult for people, but I see change in the long run as a good thing.”

Kemper Professor of American History and former Faculty Council member James T. Kloppenberg suggests that the change in the College’s top level of leadership might be one of the causes of the high turnover in other posts at University Hall.

“Often when there’s a shift from one ‘regime’ to another, many of those who had positions in the old regime leave or are pushed out so there can be new blood, people not wedded to the old ways,” Kloppenberg wrote in an e-mail.

Thomas A. Dingman ’67, a longtime Harvard administrator who was associate dean of residential life until he became dean of freshmen in 2005, says that some institutional memory has been lost in the transition, but notes that new administrators can forge relationships with faculty.

“When I see Dean Rinere reaching out and creating new, collaborative relationships with the faculty, it’s clear it can happen and can happen quickly,” Dingman says.

But Lewis—whose book abut Harvard, “Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education,” will be published next month—says that the relationships between faculty and veteran administrators are difficult to recreate.

“It’s very hard for less experienced advisers, no matter how good-willed they are, to have the right instincts about helping students understand how to solve their own problems,” Lewis says.


By the end of 2004, at least four top administrators had announced their plans to leave their posts at the College. Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 left in the summer of 2003 after 22 years at Harvard. In September 2004, Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth Studley Nathans announced the end of her 12-year tenure at Harvard after being forced from her post, and, that same month, Associate Dean of the College Jeffrey Wolcowitz, who helped guide the College’s curricular review, abruptly stepped down from his University Hall position after 16 years in the building. In December, Doherty, a 10-year Harvard veteran who was associate dean of the College at the time, announced her intention to leave.

The College was not the only part of the University that saw turnover among its staff during that time. At least five major administrators in FAS but not in the College stepped down during the same period.

Since 2001, the year that Summers was appointed, deans at seven of Harvard’s 10 schools have resigned. During that time, FAS and the Graduate School of Education have seen two different chiefs announce their plans to quit their posts.

Turnover within the College administration has continued, albeit at a slower pace since winter 2004.

Secretary of the Administrative Board and Assistant Dean of the College John T. O’Keefe left for Wellesley last summer, and the creation of the Office of Advising this year—led by recently appointed Rinere—has displaced the duties of three deans.

Assistant Dean Deborah Foster was told in February that she had been fired, but, after students, faculty, and alumni protested her planned dismissal, Gross announced the following week that he would create a new post for her at the College. In addition, Assistant Dean of the College Julia G. Fox will no longer handle her duties as manager of the Ann Radcliffe Trust and coordinator of transfer and visiting student programs, although Gross has not said whether she will remain in University Hall.

And just last week, Browne announced that after 15 years at Harvard he has opted to take a job at Boston College’s new advising center under Nathans, who now leads the center. Browne declined an offer to switch to an assistant deanship in Rinere’s Office of Advising, a move several professors identified as a demotion.

FAS Registrar Barry S. Kane said that he thinks that turnover within the administration is not only normal, but helpful in running the College.

“I happen to believe that some turn-over of staff is always a good thing. I like to say that all of us need to be ‘re-potted’ from time to time,” Kane wrote. “I have a colleague who has said to me that ‘if you can do your job with your eyes closed, it’s time to move on to new challenges.’”

But Nathans, the former dean of freshmen, calls the recent level of turnover in University Hall “extraordinary.”

“There’s always changeover, especially in the junior positions, because people move on. It’s the senior people leaving that’s unusual at Harvard—and the number and the reasons for it,” she says.


Gross wrote in an e-mail last month that he and his senior staff use survey results to “inform our priorities.” And, he says, the College is focusing on improving in the areas that student surveys have shown need the most work: faculty contact, advising, and social life.

Besides creating the Office of Advising, the College has continued during the past three years to expand the Freshman Seminar Program that had begun under the previous administration.

Gross and his staff have also pushed to expand student space. The administration, which has already begun renovating the Quad Library, plans to build a pub in Loker Commons and remodel some of the freshman dorm basements.

Funding from the Office of the President has helped the College undertake efforts to build an undergraduate community, such as hiring a campus life fellow to plan community events.

Deputy Dean of the College Patricia O’Brien, whom Gross appointed in 2004, says that “the wonderful aspect of the merger of academic programs and the College is that we now have one big team that thinks about the student holistically.”

Critics of the administration’s data-focused approach—including Lewis and other former College administrators—say they are concerned that satisfying students might be at odds with educating them.

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month, Lewis connected the departures to what he perceives as a trend in higher education.

“Many long-serving educational administrators have inexplicably left Harvard in recent years,” Lewis wrote. “They left Harvard, or were forced to leave, because they did not fit into the new, retail-store university, in which orders are taken, defects are papered over to get the merchandise out the door, and the customers are sent home happy by ‘student-service professionals.’”

Gross responds that he has “no idea what a student-service professional is,” adding that “no one on my staff could conceivably be described in that way.”

—Staff writer Liz C. Goodwin can be reached at

—Staff writer Daniel J. T. Schuker can be reached at