UPDATED: Oct. 19, 2019 at 3:30 p.m.
Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise will retire in June 2020, after more than 50 years at Harvard serving in a variety of roles including coach and Business School associate dean.
In an email to the Athletics department Thursday, Scalise thanked the people he has worked with over his tenure and wrote that he is “proud” to have served as director for 18 years.
“Harvard is many things to many different people, but in my mind, the purpose of Harvard has always been to create knowledge and to educate leaders to serve the world,” he wrote. “I am very proud to have supported this work by leading an Athletics department whose mission is to Educate through Athletics and to Build Community and Pride in Harvard.”
He also noted that he will continue to serve as an adviser to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay on athletics throughout the 2020-2021 academic year.
Scalise was a former Ivy league varsity athlete himself, receiving All-American honors for playing lacrosse at Brown University. He first came to Harvard in 1974 as coach of the men’s lacrosse team. In 1977, he started the women’s varsity soccer program and coached both men’s lacrosse and women’s soccer until 1986 and 1987, respectively.
After earning a masters degree from the Harvard Business School in 1989, Scalise later became the associate dean for administration and senior executive office at HBS, where he oversaw the school’s $200 million budget from 1996 until his appointment as Athletics Director in 2001. He will end his tenure June 30.
Former University president Lawrence H. Summers and former Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles appointed Scalise with the goal of broadening the range of students who participate in the College’s athletic program in mind.
Scalise’s resume as Athletics Director includes 22 national titles, 144 Ivy League titles, and 14 victories over longtime rival Yale in the 17 editions of “The Game” during his tenure. He received the National Football Foundation’s Toner Award for excellence in athletic administration and dedication to college athletics in 2018.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay wrote in an email to FAS affiliates that Scalise’s impact has been wide-ranging over his tenure.
“Whether you are a varsity athlete, a participant in an intramural club sport, or someone like me who just takes a break from work to let off steam on the treadmill, Bob’s thoughtful leadership has touched your life and helped to shape your Harvard experience,” she wrote.
She stressed that Scalise’s years as director were about more than just winning championships,
“He has been a leading voice in national discussions of the student athlete experience,” she wrote. “On campus, he has led Department-wide discussions of culture, enhanced training opportunities for students and staff, and successfully advocated for expanded mental health support for athletes.”
Head Varsity Squash Coach Mike Way said Scalise’s voice has been “powerful and invaluable” within the Athletics department. When Scalise called an athletics staff-wide meeting to share his retirement announcement personally, he received a “standing ovation,” according to Way.
Brant Berktresser, the associate director of athletics for student-athlete health and performance, wrote in an email that Scalise has been a particularly strong supporter for the sports medicine department.
“[Scalise] has supported our research partnerships with medical school colleagues which is enhancing the clinical care of our student-athletes and others in areas of sports cardiology and concussion,” Berktresser wrote.
Kathy Delaney-Smith, head coach for the Harvard’s women’s basketball team, said that she hopes the new Athletics Director has the same “hands-on” approach as Scalise. “I clearly remember Bob coming in [in 2001] and saying, ‘What changes do we need?’ ‘What can you say to me that will help me, help you?’”
She added that Scalise’s experience with Ivy League athletics and Harvard specifically will be missed.
“As an [Athletics Director], he had a phenomenal amount of Ivy League knowledge and in particular, Harvard knowledge and Harvard experience,” she said. “Harvard is a very complicated place, and he knew this place inside and out – both sides of the river."
Scalise’s retirement comes at a tenuous time for the department. Former Harvard fencing coach Peter Brand was dismissed in July for violating Harvard’s conflict of interest policy. Gay also recently announced that outside consulting firm Mercer would conduct a review of the Harvard’s Athletics program in the coming year.
Scalise’s retirement also coincides with the retirement of former Senior Associate Athletic Director Patricia Henry, who stepped down in June, concluding her 40-year tenure.
Scalise wrote that he hopes to spend more time with his wife and children following his retirement.
Harvard will conduct a national search to identify Scalise’s successor, and he will serve until a new director is appointed, according to Gay.
Student Athlete Advisory Council co-president Madison Earle ’20 said she hopes Scalise’s successor will advocate for student-athletes both academically and athletically.
“I want to see someone who is involved in all aspects of campus: not only with the student athletes but also across the river, just making sure that we’re being heard not only sporting-wise but also academically,” Earle said.
“I think Bob has excelled in that area,” she added.
Correction: Oct. 17, 2019
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that former Senior Associate Athletic Director Patricia Henry will be retiring June 2020. In fact, she retired this past June.
—Staff writer Devin B. Srivastava can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org