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Sharon Howell, Longtime Adams Resident Dean, Will Depart at Year’s End

By Madeline R. Conway, Crimson Staff Writer

Sharon L. Howell, the longtime Adams House resident dean who spoke up in support of her colleagues during a controversy over administrative action last spring, will depart Harvard this summer to serve as the associate head of school at Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, Mass.

Howell has been Adams’s resident dean since 2006, and prior to that, she and her husband were Adams House tutors. After Adams House Masters Judith S. Palfrey ’67 and Sean Palfrey ’67 announced her departure in an email to students Monday, Adams residents characterized Howell as a trusted mentor and beloved dean who raised her family in the House.

“Sharon is an institution in Adams,” Sean Palfrey said.

Beyond her role within Adams, Howell served as the College’s senior resident dean for three years, until she went on a semester-long sabbatical this past fall, making her the highest-ranking resident dean during those years. Howell, a lecturer on History and Literature with a focus on American poetry, also currently sits on the Faculty Council and the Academic Integrity Committee.

Howell’s last academic year as senior resident dean, in 2012-2013, was a tumultuous one for the College. Over the course of just a few months, Harvard saw the adjudication of its largest cheating scandal in recent memory and controversy over revelations that administrators had secretly searched the email accounts of resident deans after internal Administrative Board communications appeared in the media.

After news broke of the searches, Howell was the first resident dean to speak out publicly about administrators’ handling of the searches. In a letter to University President Drew G. Faust, Howell called for a “conversation about integrity at Harvard” among both faculty and students and addressed resident deans’ “dismay” in reaction to the secret searches. Palfrey said that her choice to speak out on the issue demonstrated her strength and commitment.

The controversy over the searches reignited a years-long conversation about the resident deans’ role at the College, which has since continued in the form of an administrative review of the position.

“I have seen my role as representing this cohort of dedicated people and really trying to articulate and discuss the place that we occupy in the College and affirm its importance,” Howell said in an interview in her Adams residence Monday evening. She called the resident dean position a “critical role in the College.”

On Monday, Adams students praised Howell for her influence on their House, suggesting that she has set an example for others in the resident dean position. Ben J. Lamont ’14 called her family a “really strong addition to Adams House,” and Sarah E. Coughlon ’15 said that Howell is trustworthy and cares “very deeply” for students.

“Every resident dean should be like Sharon,” Coughlon said. “Every administrator should be like Sharon.”

Howell, for her part, said that she has “really tried to bring compassion and accountability to students’ lives,” adding that she has also tried to be an “intellectual presence” in Adams.

As Howell will depart the House this summer, Palfrey said administrators plan to find her replacement before next fall. Howell called Northfield Mount Hermon, a secondary boarding school, “excellent” and said she is “very excited” about working there.

—Staff writer Madeline R. Conway can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MadelineRConway.

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