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Dean Long Outlines Forward, Outward-Looking Vision for Education School

Bridget Terry Long
Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Bridget Terry Long.
Bridget Terry Long took the helm of the Harvard Graduate School of Education this summer at an inflection point for education around the country. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had discarded the Obama-era rule book on sexual assault policy and trumpeted school choice in primary and secondary education. The #MeToo movement had begun to hit academia. For the first time, the federal government passed a bill to levy taxes on some university endowments — a sign that higher education was under fire. A high-profile admissions lawsuit now in trial was challenging race-conscious admissions policies at Long's own institution.

Now, three months into her tenure as dean, Long is beginning to implement her vision at a time when the future of education in America is in flux.

Long assumed her position as dean on July 1, the same day University President Lawrence S. Bacow began his role. Long came into the deanship with prior Harvard experience under her belt. As the first black woman to lead the Ed School, Long previously served as a professor of education and economics at HGSE. She was appointed to the National Board for Education Sciences by President Obama in 2010, and has been awarded honors from numerous organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Once in the new position, Long said she prioritized becoming acquainted with the unique challenges of the job.

“Realizing that I’m only in month three, I think it is important to first just kind of take stock,” Long said in a recent interview. “Any good leader, even if you’ve been within the institution, you’re going to take time to listen.”

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While taking the time to listen to others, Long has also used her position of leadership to publicly respond to issues of national importance, including the recent confirmation process of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

On Sept. 28, the day after Christine Blasey Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee alleging that Kavanaugh assaulted her when the two were in high school, Long emphasized in an email to HGSE affiliates the importance of universal respect. Long and Maritza S. Hernandez, an Ed School associate dean, wrote that all individuals have the right to live “free of harassment and unwanted attention or harm.”

“We also want all of you to know that you can find support here at HGSE,” they wrote. The email also listed resources both inside and outside of Harvard that individuals can consult if they have experienced sexual harassment or abuse.

Not all Harvard deans issued public statements in response to the hearings. John F. Manning ’82, dean of the Law School, stayed silent throughout the proceedings, earning criticism from some students. He eventually sent an email to Law School calling the preceding weeks an “extraordinarily painful and divisive chapter” in American history.

Long said she was unaware of any discussion among central administrators on what, if anything, to communicate to students and affiliates regarding the hearings or sexual assault more generally. Explaining her motivations behind the public message, Long said she believes she has the responsibility to speak out about the values of the institution she represents.

“The advice I’ve been given by many senior leaders both at Harvard and elsewhere is to speak out when you feel that the values of the institution are being put in jeopardy or need to be re-emphasized. And so that's what I did, because I knew that there were people who were hurting,” Long said.

Long said, however, that in her new administrative role, she has been conscious of the limitations of her voice in representing the totality of HGSE.

“It is my job to elevate [the student] voice…but it's not my job to speak for [the student],” Long said. “And so you have to walk this very careful line as dean to think carefully that, if you do speak, you could squash someone else's right to speak for themselves.”

Long has also been adamant about defending other institutional values that have recently come under attack. Among these is the ongoing affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard, which Long said poses a threat to the environment that the University has cultivated. According to Long, the benefits of diversity far outweigh the drawbacks of affirmative action policies.

“I know, as a faculty member, when you have a rich mixture of people in the classroom, the ideas that come out and the way that people bounce off of each other is just so much better versus if you just had the same kind of person, from the same kind of background, from the same kind of school,” Long said.

The Education School, she said, stands firmly in support of affirmative action.

“We have to have diversity if we are actually going to produce good outcomes,” Long said. “We have doubled down on taking that stance. We have reaffirmed it.”

Long said she also intends to concentrate efforts in addressing the stereotype that universities only benefit the elite. She said she thinks Harvard should focus more on countering this perception.

Because of the Ed School’s specific focus on education, it is one of the most outward-facing institutions at Harvard, Long said. Attacks on higher education, she said, come from a lack of awareness and understanding of the positive impacts of such programs.

“Our impact is in schools and communities and nonprofits that are elsewhere,” Long said. “So we're constantly proving the fact that there is value to what we're doing here.”

Expanding the reach of HGSE is one of Long’s main goals. The dean said she wants to further the reach of community partnerships, engagements with businesses, and programs for the public offered by HGSE.

Long’s recent trip to Detroit with Bacow is an example of one of these initiatives. Long said this trip represents the beginning of many conversations between Harvard and various school districts, community organizations, and local foundations about their needs and how Harvard can help. According to Long, the needs of these institutions and areas could lead to mutually beneficial partnerships.

Long said one challenge for Harvard in getting “out in the world,” as she puts it, is that the University does not have a consolidated network of interconnected partners and alumni. By bringing these people together, Long said she thinks that Harvard can do better in giving back to communities.

“When it was announced that President Bacow was going to go to Michigan, we started to realize how many alumni are in Michigan and how we touched so many different parts of the communities there,” Long said. “We have to think much more about that, and use those networks and partnerships to be bigger than just what we are here in Cambridge or Allston or Longwood area, but where we are all over the world.”

On top of these challenges, Long said the field of education must also continue to address structural inequalities. She said while there are exciting new developments in the field of education science, such as cutting-edge technology and an advanced biological and psychological understanding of a young person’s brain, not every student is able to benefit from such innovations.

“So many students, so many kids, so many families, communities, and adults aren't getting what we know right now to be a good quality, a high quality education,” Long said.

The challenge, according to Long, is overcoming social inequities.

“While we have the best and brightest and most innovative kinds of ideas circling, we are having trouble providing that to all students, of all ages, and all communities," Long said.

“So lots of work to be done,” she added.

—Staff writer Lainey A. Newman can be reached at lainey.newman@thecrimson.com.

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