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When Paul J. McLoughlin II came to Harvard as a counselor in the Office of Career Services, he was, at 26, just a few years older than some of the students he advised.
Within just a few years, he moved up Harvard’s ladder, becoming assistant dean of student life—and the youngest administrator at the College, beating out other administrators at the time by 18 years.
Soon, he climbed higher, becoming an associate dean and senior adviser to the dean when Evelynn M. Hammonds took over as the College’s top administrator. As Hammonds’ closest confidante, he has had his hand in every major College project over the past three years.
But after ten years at Harvard, McLoughlin, 36, announced this summer that he was ready to step down.
As this influential and at times controversial figure leaves Harvard, many administrators and student group leaders say that McLoughlin has been a consistent advocate for students in University Hall even if some of the projects he has led—like the construction of the Student Organization Center at Hilles—have come under criticism for failing to address student needs.
Without McLoughlin standing behind her, Dean Hammonds might now make changes to her staff structure that reflect her transition to leading the College with three years of experience at its helm from the new dean who invited McLoughlin to move up in the College along with her.
SHAPING THE COLLEGE
When Hammonds became dean of the College in 2008, she appointed McLoughlin as her right-hand man.
In that role, as well as in his earlier position in the Office of Student Life, he has played an important role in initiatives like expanding social space for students, re-envisioning the College’s winter break, and enlivening opening week programs.
He was the project manager for the creation of the SOCH in 2006. Five years later, the space hosts numerous events and houses student group offices but is commonly derided for its remote location in the Quad.
Looking back on the project now, McLoughlin acknowledges that the building is not as popular as he would like it to be, citing it as proof of the adage about “location, location, location” being key to success in real estate.
But he noted that moving student organizations to the SOCH freed up spaces in the basements of freshman dormitories that are now occupied by the Harvard Foundation, Women’s Center, prayer groups, and freshman common rooms.
“If you think about that project in its totality, it has been hugely successful,” McLouglin said. “[The SOCH] has always been part of a package.”
As he leaves Harvard, McLoughlin similarly seeks to put a positive spin on another endeavor which received mixed reviews from College students. Last January, he ran the College’s inaugural Optional Winter Activities Week. Though some complained that it was under-attended and suffered from a lack of faculty programming and College guidance, McLoughlin says that the first iteration of the end-of-break week was what he intended it to be, and he foresees few changes to how the week will be run.
Admitting that “winter break has gotten a lot of beating up on,” he says that he thinks the break should remain “amorphous” rather than a “cruise ship menu of choices.”
He predicts that the next OWAW will closely resemble the last, with the addition of three to five signature programs run by the College rather than students or staff. He says he has secured a private donor to fund these programs, which may include a session on academic integrity or disaster preparedness.
FARM TO YARD
Raised on a farm in Ohio, McLoughlin has adopted a seemingly very different habitat in Harvard Yard for the past ten years.
Robert G. Doyle, an associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences who has known McLoughlin for nine years, credits his farm upbringing with imbuing him with the stick-to-itiveness that he brought to his work at Harvard.
“If you went to Broadway Garage at 8 a.m., you would see his car. At 7:30 at night, you would see his car,” Doyle says, comparing the hours McLoughlin put in at University Hall to the sunup to sundown schedule of a farmer.
McLouglin majored in zoology and neuroscience at Miami University of Ohio, with plans to become a doctor. His ambition changed, he says, due to the example set by his own dean of students, a mentor so close to him during his undergraduate years that he later officiated at McLoughlin’s wedding to his husband. That union, registered on the first day that same-sex couples could legally marry in Massachusetts, garnered McLoughlin a featured spot in a New York Times Magazine cover story on young gay men’s marital relationships.
Thanks in part to his former dean’s example, McLoughlin says he aspires to a position as a dean of students himself.
After trying his hand at working in the Office of Student Life, where he worked frequently with student leaders, and then in Dean Hammonds’ office, where he characterizes his work as “more behind-the-scenes,” McLoughlin says he wants a position in the future that involves direct work with students.
This year, he will be teaching graduate students at Boston College, where he recently completed his Ph.D. in higher education, as well as working on turning his dissertation into a book.
His experiences at Harvard, he says, “helped me focus on what I really enjoy doing and what I’ll seek in my next position—what I’m seeking now is certainly direct work with undergraduates, likely at a dean of students level, or a president level maybe eventually.”
Doyle makes similar observations about McLoughlin’s priorities. The position in Hammonds’ administration, Doyle says, “did not offer him a lot of opportunities to work with students, and I think he really missed that. ... He got an opportunity with Hammonds to find out what it’s like to run an institution. He’ll be very marketable in higher education when he’s been in so many different sides of working in a college.”
LAUDED TO LAMBASTED
Students seem to have noticed McLoughlin’s enthusiasm for working with them.
“He is very accessible,” says Alexandre J. Terrien ’11, who worked closely with McLoughlin while he served as a Crimson Key Society officer. “I would even sometimes show up to his office without a meeting time. I would just kind of drop by and say hi.”
Former UC President Johnny F. Bowman, Jr. ’11 recalls, “He was incredible, really helpful, really just enthusiastic about student life and was one of the few people that had a long term vision or goal on how to improve it.”
Fellow administrators give McLoughlin glowing marks as well.
Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 says, “He was a very hardworking, very creative, and very organized colleague. I interviewed him when he was applying to be assistant dean, [and] I was struck then by his energy, his imagination, his commitment to make a difference. He was a great hire. Great hire.”
But since then, not everyone has always been pleased with McLoughlin’s leadership.
Members of the Harvard Advocate reacted with ire in 2004, just after McLoughlin’s appointment as assistant dean, when he and other administrators showed up unannounced to order thousands of dollars’ worth of facilities repairs. All these years later, McLoughlin mentions the Advocate first when talking about people who have criticized him.
When the budgetary crisis struck in 2009, McLoughlin drew anger from a larger segment of the student body by announcing that shuttle services would end at 1:30 a.m. rather than 3:45 a.m. on weeknights and no longer operate on weekend mornings.
Recalling the resulting uproar—out of safety concerns, late-night services eventually survived uncut—Bowman says, “There were some more unpopular aspects of his tenure, such as cutting shuttles. I view him as one of the few people who actually take charge of matters.... He had to make budgetary decisions and he made those.”
Observers say McLoughlin has developed a close friendship with Hammonds, which has contributed to a large role in her administration.
“He was such a driving force for Dean Hammonds,” says Eric N. Hysen ’11, a former vice president of the Undergraduate Council.
“He was very much setting the agenda for what she was doing,” he said.
But for now, Hammonds might not pick someone to fill his shoes and leave the position of senior adviser unfilled.
“Dean Hammonds is a different dean now,” McLoughlin says, positing that perhaps she wants to rely on a looser network of many informal advisers rather than one official staunch supporter. “Maybe she has decided that she doesn’t need a senior adviser now.”
—Heng Shao contributed reporting to this article.
—Staff writer Julie M. Zauzmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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