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College Will Merge OSL, FDO Into One Student Life Office

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sits at his desk in University Hall.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana sits at his desk in University Hall. By Kai R. McNamee
By Caroline S. Engelmayer and Michael E. Xie, Crimson Staff Writers

The Office of Student Life and the Freshman Dean’s Office will merge into a new office—called the Dean of Students Office—starting on July 1, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote in an email to students Monday.

Khurana said in an interview last week that administrators are merging the two offices to “integrate and strengthen the four-year residential experience.”

“This new office will centralize services that are currently offered by both the OSL and the FDO in a way that ensures continuity in the extensive support systems–both academic and residential–that are available to all students,” he wrote in the email to students Monday.

Currently, the FDO and OSL split oversight of residential and social life at the College. The FDO—comprising roughly a dozen full-time staff members—administers programming for freshmen. The OSL—which boasts nearly double that number of staffers—provides support for student organizations, housing operations, and College-wide diversity initiatives. The OSL also partners with upperclassmen House management to oversee residential and social programming for sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, who currently oversees the Office of Student Life, will lead the joint office, according to Khurana. The OSL currently sits on the first floor of University Hall while the FDO has its own building on Prescott Street, and O’Dair said in an interview last week that administrators have not yet determined whether the two offices will remain split between their respective locations or whether the new office will occupy a new spot on campus.

“We haven’t determined the physical spaces yet,” O’Dair said.

The new administrative structure of the Dean of Students Office also means the College will effectively cancel the position of dean of first-year students, occupied since 2004 by Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67. Dingman announced in Nov. 2017 he plans to step down from his position at the end of the academic year; given the merger, the College will not seek his replacement.

Instead, administrators in the Dean of Students Office will divide up the responsibilities that currently fall under the purview of the Freshman Dean’s Office. Specifically, one administrator will oversee freshman residential life in the new organizational structure, according to O’Dair.

In an email sent to students Monday, Khurana wrote the new office will be responsible for four main areas of the Harvard College experience: residential life, student experience, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and student advising.

In an interview, O’Dair said “senior folks” and “resident deans”—including resident deans of freshmen, who will each continue to oversee one neighborhood of Yard dorms—will support first-year residential life.

But not all roles in the new office are set in stone.

As part of the transition, the College will also create new administrative positions that consolidate some responsibilities currently managed by the FDO with others currently managed by the OSL.

O’Dair said administrators are “beginning” the work of figuring out exactly what those new positions will entail now. In his email, Khurana wrote O’Dair will “announce further details” ahead of the July 1 launch.

According to Khurana’s email, the new structure comes partially as a response to student feedback requesting a smoother transition from Yard to House life. In the interview last week, Khurana said he has been considering joining the OSL and the FDO almost since he became dean of the College in 2014.

He said he “talked to everyone” when deciding whether and how to prosecute the merger, including Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Michael D. Smith, O’Dair, and other senior leaders in FAS.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but I love asking people for advice,” Khurana said.

Khurana wrote in the email he is excited about the merger.

“While I will miss working with Dean Dingman after he retires, I am excited about the new possibilities that will be created by the DSO,” he wrote. “I am confident that taking this step will boost the College’s efforts to support a residential and social experience that is welcoming, open, and accessible to all students.”

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.

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