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After moving into a renovated neo-Georgian dormitory complex at 10 Holyoke Place, Lowell House welcomed 49 new members — including former University President Drew G. Faust and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay — to its Senior Common Room this fall.
Lowell’s new faculty deans, Nina Zipser and David I. Laibson ’88, expanded their house’s SCR by 25 percent — from about 190 members last year to 239 this semester. In addition to Faust and Gay, the list of leading Harvard administrators who joined the Lowell SCR this year include Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Francis J. Doyle III, and former FAS Dean Michael D. Smith.
At least 21 current and former deans and associate deans make up Lowell’s SCR, along with multiple department chairs, University Professors, and other top administrators.
The term “Senior Common Room” refers to both a physical space in each of the College’s houses and a group of people to whom undergraduates can turn for mentorship, career advice, and personal support. These include administrators and graduate students who live in each House, as well as non-residential affiliates like faculty members, alumni, and local professionals.
Laibson said he and Zipser considered “many factors” when inviting professors and administrators to join the SCR — a variety of academic interests and life experiences, a desire to connect with Lowell undergraduates, and the deans’ personal “familiarity in some form.”
“I would say that one of the critical things on our minds is creating a diverse community, with many different perspectives, different fields, different life experiences,” Laibson said.
“Of course, we’re influenced by who we’ve happened to have gotten to know over the years. So in part I think the list reflects the people who we’ve interacted with, it could be a committee that we’ve both served on, it could be a colleague whose book we recently read, someone who we’ve just come to know in some context,” Laibson added.
The duo have both held leadership positions in FAS. Zipser is the current dean for Faculty Affairs and Planning, and Laibson is the former Economics department chair.
The SCR system — which is derived from historic residential colleges at Cambridge and Oxford in England — varies widely across the 12 houses in terms of the quality and volume of its programming; faculty deans are responsible for implementing an SCR as they see fit. A 2009 FAS report on the House Renewal project described the SCR as “an outdated concept that in many cases is not working well for current students and faculty.”
Several House leaders and SCR members interviewed in 2017 said that some houses’ SCRs are characterized by affiliates’ limited involvement, inconvenient event scheduling, and poor participation from students.
The expansion of the Lowell SCR’s member list comes with an expansion of student-facing SCR programming in the house. Prior to this year, Lowell’s former faculty deans — Diana L. Eck and Dorothy A. Austin — invited SCR affiliates to participate in house-wide events like weekly Thursday teas and formal “High Table” dinners with the senior class. They also opened the dining hall to all SCR affiliates.
This year, Laibson and Zipser instituted two new programs. The first is Lowell Conversations, weekly events during which an SCR member leads a discussion with students. The second is a program for undergraduates to invite SCR affiliates to three meals each semester.
Lowell resident Tatiana S. Jimenez ’21 said she is excited to reach out to a member of the SCR who shares her academic interests.
“Last year, I remember there [was] specifically somebody who does like urban planning, and I’m very interested in that. So I was going to go through the list and try to find him so I could reach out to them,” Jimenez said. “There's so many cool people. And I feel like it's going to be really nice to get to know them. And ask them literally, like, any question about the future.”
The Lowell Conversations series kicked off last Thursday, with English professor Louis Menand leading a discussion on affirmative action and social justice.
Laibson said though he and Zipser made the final decisions on SCR affiliate selection, they placed weight on advice from Lowell residents.
“I would say that anyone who came to us with a suggestion definitely had our ear,” Laibson said. “If someone came to us with a good suggestion, we acted upon it. And there were many such suggestions, so that’s not a hypothetical. We got lots of great recommendations from existing members of the community.”
—Staff writer Sanjana L. Narayanan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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