Harvard has some hiring to do. With the announcement that Eliot House Faculty Deans Douglas A. Melton and Gail A. O’Keefe will step down at the end of the spring semester, the College must now replace five sets of faculty deans in Eliot, Cabot, Kirkland, Quincy, and Dunster Houses. Faculty deans play an integral role in House life; we have seen how they can have a large, tangible effect on the student experience, both for better and for worse. In light of the position’s considerable power, the task of selecting five new sets of faculty deans is a massive undertaking that will directly impact a significant proportion of the current and future undergraduate population, leaving a lasting cultural imprint on our University.
Filling five vacancies at once presents a unique opportunity for the College to improve representation in its leadership in an impactful, holistic way. The incoming faculty deans could represent diverse races, genders, ethnicities, ages, nationalities, and academic disciplines — creating House leadership that is more reflective of the diversity of the undergraduate student body. We believe there is value in students being able to see themselves in their faculty deans. If the College believes this as well, now is a prime opportunity to demonstrate that belief.
Additionally, the College has the opportunity in making these choices to reflect upon and clearly lay out its expectations for faculty deans. Their role is so large, yet so incredibly vague in its jurisdiction. Previous faculty deans have outlined what they believe are the responsibilities associated with the role, and we would appreciate similar clarification from the College, especially in the wake of conflicts between House leaderships in recent semesters.
Despite the excitement of these opportunities, we cannot overlook the benefits of having seasoned faculty deans at the helm of House life, as their position requires that they take on a pseudo-parental role in their House. As such, faculty deans’ performance may be enhanced with experience, as they might need time to adapt to their new roles. To that end, while we understand the need for periodic reviews to assess the condition in the House, we believe that the five- year, once-renewable contractual term limit on faculty deans’ tenures is unproductive, and a likely contributor to the upheaval in leadership we are currently witnessing.
We hope that the incoming deans will make an effort to ensure that House community and traditions are not lost in the transition. These traditions include everything from the quirky Mather Lather, to the more upscale Thursday Lowell House Tea and Eliot House Fête formal. There is value in preserving such traditions, and we hope that residents of the Houses receiving new deans will feel a sense of continuity between the culture of the House under both the old and new House deans.
Amid the selection process, we appreciate that the University is allowing students to have input into nominating future faculty deans. As faculty deans play an instrumental role in shaping the lives of undergraduates, it only seems appropriate that their voices are heard in selecting those who will be part of their family here at Harvard.
The appointment of five new faculty deans has enormous potential to both diversify Harvard’s leadership and breathe new life into campus culture.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.