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A High-Stakes Dean Search: Transition in University Hall During the Capital Campaign

Next Dean of the College will be named in the midst of a $6.5 billion fundraising drive

By Michelle Denise L. Ferreol and Jared T. Lucky, Crimson Staff Writers

Part III of a three-part series on the search for a new Dean of the College. Part I ran on Oct. 16 and Part II ran on Oct. 17.

Two weeks before the University launched its last capital campaign in 1994, then-Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett ’57 told The Crimson that he planned to soon retire.

Nineteen years later, the public phase of another fundraising drive began last month with the Dean of the College once again in transition. This past summer, three months before the campaign launch, Evelynn M. Hammonds stepped down as College Dean, setting into motion a search for her permanent replacement in the crucial first months of the $6.5 billion campaign’s public phase.

While the 1990s campaign prioritized beefing up financial aid for undergraduates, this time the stakes of the campaign are even higher for the College. With the University planning to raise nearly three times as much money than in its last campaign, Harvard hopes to partially fund its more than $1 billion House renewal project while continuing to support undergraduate financial aid.

So far, most of the College’s capital campaign efforts have not been directly led by interim College Dean Donald H. Pfister, but by his boss—Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith. The limited campaign role of Pfister, who has said he will lead the College for no more than a year, in part reflects the Dean of the College’s unique position as the chief executive of a school that is subordinate to the FAS.

Still, administrators and student leaders say that the next permanent College Dean has the potential to maximize the College’s gains from the campaign, particularly if he or she is called upon to serve a more active role in soliciting donations.

“He or she should be able to explain to alums the significance of the College and the way we support students,” Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde said. “So many of us are invisible so the Dean really has to be the face of the College—their personality and articulation of our values will be foremost in the campaign.”


According to FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal, Smith has thus far taken the lead on the FAS campaign, “including efforts focused particularly on the College.” Besides working with the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development and the campaign co-chairs, Neal wrote in an email, Smith has also coordinated his capital campaign efforts with some of the College administrators.

Interim College Dean of Administration Russ Porter, for instance, wrote in an email that he is “now actively engaged with the FAS Development team in ongoing planning and implementation efforts for the Harvard College campaign priorities.”

But Pfister, who works directly under Smith in the administrative hierarchy, said he has played a limited role in the campaign so far.

“When I took the job, Dean Smith said, ‘Maybe there’ll be some campaign work that I’ll ask you to do,’” said Pfister. “I’m perfectly willing to do it as long as time permits, but it’s not part of a major portfolio at this point.”

Other deans within the College administration similarly said that while they would be willing to help out with the capital campaign, particularly as it pertains to the College, they have not been asked to do so.

Although the Office of Student Life was extensively involved in the planning stages of House renewal, Lassonde said that the nature of alumni gifts, which often “come with strings attached,” limits his role in the process.

“At this point, I’m not involved but I can see myself being called to help,” Lassonde said. “The Dean of FAS is really in charge…. Dean Smith is the one who is mobilized the most and chooses where to allocate funds.”


With Pfister and his subordinates playing a secondary role in the administration of the campaign, administrators said they were not worried about the lack of a permanent dean throughout these first few months of the capital campaign.

For one, Secretary of the Administrative Board John “Jay” L. Ellison said that even in this transition period in University Hall, College administrators are continuing with their regular duties.

“The work of the College doesn’t stop just because we have an interim dean,” Ellison said. “I would be disappointed in donors for whom it would make a difference, because the College is not one person.”

Furthermore, administrators and students said that Pfister’s low-key role in the campaign so far seems to track with the way previous College Deans have worked with fundraising.

“Going back, I don’t think that [Deans of the College] are expected to solicit for the campaign,” Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 said.

And students on the Capital Campaign Task Force, a group convened last year by former Undergraduate Council President Danny P. Bicknell ’13 to represent undergraduate voices regarding the campaign, said they have neither met with Hammonds nor Pfister in their past few months of work.

Still, administrators and students said they believe that if asked to do so, Pfister could be an effective ambassador for the campaign.

“I don't know much about Dean Pfister, but he sounds like a longstanding and distinguished advocate for Harvard,” task force member Michael E. Danto ’13-14 said. “His emails to the College community show humanity and a sense of humor, traits that are probably useful in fundraising.”

Administrators have similarly expressed their support for Pfister’s involvement in the capital campaign, citing his experience as a House master and his familiarity with several administrative divisions as strengths.

“I think Don Pfister would be a very persuasive voice for the College,” Dingman said. “ He has a nice sense of humor and a great understanding of the roles that we play.”

For his part, Pfister said he already knows many potential alumni donors from his days as master of Kirkland House in the 1980s and 1990s, and that, if asked, he could speak to issues that potential donors may find interesting.


But with Pfister not in the running for the permanent deanship, any active campaign advocacy from the Office of the Dean of the College will likely be taken up by his successor, who could potentially lead the College for the final four years of what is expected to be a five-year campaign.

In light of this, administrators said it could aid the campaign if the next permanent College Dean brings charisma and competence to the job, not least if the dean is asked to fundraise.

Dingman said that while the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development does a good job training individuals in how to solicit funds for the University, a good Dean of the College would already be comfortable with the art of schmoozing donors.

In these solicitations, Dingman said, “What you need is familiarity with the College and knowledge of who you are talking to. Someone with more years spent in the role definitely has an advantage, and personality is a big factor.”

Dingman said that the fundraising College Dean also “has to be good at making people comfortable, has to be a good listener, and has to speak with energy.”

And, according to Lassonde, the next College Dean can also contribute to the campaign by presenting potential donors with a coherent vision of the College’s purpose.

“We need someone who is able to articulate the values and goals of the College and understands how it works...A whole deal of personal appeal is involved as well, as we are trying to persuade,” Lassonde said.

Musing on a potential successor, Pfister said that the next College Dean’s most important role in the capital campaign will be to ably direct the College’s everyday operations to present a good face to alumni.

“I think the main thing is for alumni to feel like the College is in good hands,” Pfister said. “Maybe it doesn’t make much of a difference whose hands, but good hands.”

—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @michiferreol.

—Staff writer Jared T. Lucky can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jared_lucky.

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