Acting Dean Cast as GSE Chief

As Ed School readies for move to Allston, Summers turns to a familiar face

Kathleen McCartney, the current acting dean of the Graduate School of Education (GSE), will stay on as the school’s next chief, University President Lawrence H. Summers announced yesterday.

The last appointment of Summers’ term follows insider promotions at the Graduate School of Design and at the Business School. Design Dean Alan A. Altshuler and Business School Dean Jay O. Light both held their posts in an interim capacity before Summers made their appointments permanent.

McCartney assumed the post of acting dean last July after taking over from Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, who served as dean for only three years before stepping down to return to academia.

“We’re really at an interesting point in our history. There are a lot of exciting opportunities that await us,” said McCartney, also holds the Lesser chair in early childhood development. “I have enjoyed the work. I plan to stay for a long time.”

McCartney spent much of this year heading an extensive academic planning process focused on brainstorming ways to reorganize some doctoral and masters programs. Among the proposals is the institution of a new doctoral program that would collaborate with the Kennedy School of Government and Business School to train educational leadership, according to Eliot Professor of Education John B. Willett.

McCartney has “gotten the faculty thinking about the future again,” Willett said.

The academic restructuring is occurring in anticipation of the school’s move to Allston. Like the School of Public Health, the GSE is slated to begin relocating across the river within the next 10 to 15 years.

“We’re very anxious to move actually,” McCartney said, pointing to chronic space shortages at the GSE, which professors say lacks adequate room for classes, research, and meetings. “I’m going to do my best to advocate an early move.”

McCartney also said she hoped to make increasing financial aid and fellowships a top priority of her tenure.

Summers’ permanent appointment of McCartney prompted a spontaneous standing ovation of the GSE faculty, according to professors present at the outgoing president’s announcement.

“As I said to the Ed School faculty today, some choices a Harvard president makes are hard. This one was easy,” Summers said last night. “I really think she’s the best person for the job.”

Willett has worked closely with McCartney since she joined the GSE senior faculty in 2000 said he thought Summers made the right decision in choosing McCartney.

“I’ve no doubt that would be a consensus view of the faculty and of the students as well,” Willett said.

Together, Willett and McCartney advise some of the same students and meet weekly to collaborate on research about the achievement gap in education.

“I think she’s smart and I think she’s well-organized,” Willett said. “She knows what it means to be a leader of small group of smart people.”

Professors said McCartney’s performance as acting dean was a key factor in her popularity.

“Kathy McCartney will be a terrific dean!” wrote Bigelow Professor of Education Kurt Fischer in an e-mail. “She has already done wonders to bring our School together as a community and to begin to articulate a creative vision for our future.”

—Staff writer Natalie I. Sherman can be reached at