Key Harvard Dean Will Leave Post

William Kirby will return to teaching amid grumbling over curricular review and reported split with Summers.
January 30, 2006

A year after Harvard University became embroiled in a debate over its president, he remains firmly in place. But a key dean -- whose major project was a curricular review that in some ways was sidetracked because of the presidential controversy -- is out.

William C. Kirby announced Friday that he was resigning as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. A historian of China, Kirby will become director of Harvard's John King Fairbank Center for East Asian research.

Kirby and Lawrence H. Summers, the president, released letters pointing to progress Kirby had made on a variety of fronts. But even the letters could not hide the extent to which the university has been consumed with debate over Summers, not Kirby's original agenda. Kirby's letter to the faculty noted that "the events of the past year have posed serious challenges" and the reply letter from Summers noted that the dean had worked in a "not-uncomplicated time."

Kirby has been in a difficult position for much of the last year -- as a key intermediary between Summers and professors who were fed up with the president. Kirby also led the effort to come up with a plan for reforming Harvard's undergraduate education -- a topic Summer expressed considerable interest in, but on which he largely pulled back after he became such a lightening rod for criticism. The panel Kirby led recommended giving students much more control over their courses -- a move that was (not surprisingly) popular with students, but that has attracted considerable criticism from others. Many believe that Harvard is missing a rare opportunity to make significant improvements in undergraduate education.

For some time now, The Harvard Crimson has been reporting that Kirby was on the outs with Summers, and that the president wanted him to leave his position. The Crimson reported this weekend that the resignation was originally planned to be announced next month, but was moved up after the student newspaper told Harvard officials it was getting ready to publish an article on the resignation plans.


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