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John Harvard's Journal

The College Reconfigures

March-April 2005

Dean of Harvard College Benedict H. Gross announced in early January a series of appointments and new positions intended to manage undergraduate life as changes in the curriculum, advising systems, and residential experience are implemented in the next few years.

Thomas A. Dingman
Photograph by Stu Rosner

Effective July 1, Thomas A. Dingman, now associate dean of residential life (responsible for House life and athletics), will become dean of freshmen, succeeding Elizabeth Studley Nathans, whose forthcoming departure was announced last fall. And Georgene B. Herschbach, most recently associate dean of administration and finance, was appointed associate dean of undergraduate academic programs as of January 10. In this new role, she runs instructional programs such as expository writing, freshman seminars, the Core curriculum, and the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning (which offers skills training for professors and teaching fellows), as well as overseeing the teaching-fellow budget, course evaluation, and so on. Her predecessor, Elizabeth Doherty, moved to Brown last year; a search is under way for a new administrative dean.

Those more-or-less lateral moves come as change is stirring in many of the new deans' areas of responsibility. As part of the College curriculum review, the choice of academic concentration, now made during the second semester, will likely be deferred into the sophomore year. That lends urgency to the expected effort to create an integrated advising structure serving students throughout their Harvard experience (see below).

Similarly, the Core curriculum will change significantly as a new distribution requirement and revamped integrative courses are phased in for general education. Expository writing may be altered, possibly by being melded with mainline academic courses, or by incorporating training in oral expression. Dingman and Herschbach face far from static roles.

Georgene B. Herschbach
Photograph by Stu Rosner

Gross also established two new positions, which indicate further the scope of coming changes. An associate dean of academic advising will "coordinate, manage, and monitor the academic advising for all undergraduates," he said, suggesting a concerted effort to bring together now disparate counseling offered by freshman proctors and advisers, House-based tutors, and departmental experts in the concentrations. The curricular review report issued last year alluded to a centralized advising function, responsible for sorting out roles, recruiting personnel, and training. By committing to a new structure before the curriculum review concludes, Gross addresses an area in which Harvard has faced recurring, sharp criticism. Given that students may soon have more course choices, better advising appears critical to the success of the larger effort.

Gross is also seeking a dean of residential life, who will oversee the dean of freshmen and the House masters and senior tutors, to ensure what he called an "outstanding and seamless residential experience for all students." That integration of responsibilities is meant to make students' first year less separate from upperclass life, and to support the more coherent advising system now envisioned. The new dean may have plenty of other challenges on his or her plate if the College effects two other changes broached in the curriculur discussion to date. Both the potential change in the academic calendar to accommodate a January "J term" between fall and spring semesters and the already increasing push for study abroad suggest a much more fluid student body in residence in the future.